Woman on couch looking outsideShare on Pinterest
Cavan Images/Getty Images

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), miscarriage happens in at least 10 percent of clinically identified pregnancies. (Meaning, you actually knew you were pregnant; some miscarriages happen before you even miss your period.)

When miscarriage happens after you’ve already gotten a positive pregnancy test, it can be a physically and emotionally painful process.

We can’t make miscarriage any easier, but we can help you understand what’s happening. For instance, although abdominal pain is one of the most frequent symptoms of a miscarriage, it’s not the only type of pain or discomfort you might feel.

Here’s a breakdown of seven types of pain you might have during a miscarriage and what you can do to relieve your symptoms.

Cramping with a miscarriage is usually caused by your uterus contracting. Just like during your period, your uterus contracts to push contents out. Since your uterus is mostly a muscle, these contractions feel like muscle cramps (in other words, they hurt).

You’ll usually feel these cramps on both sides of your lower abdomen or pelvic region. The cramps may come and go in waves or your pain may feel more constant. Unless your doctor has told you not to, you can treat your pain with over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like Motrin or Tylenol. You can also use a heating pad to ease cramping.

During a normal menstrual cycle, your uterus builds up lining to prepare for a pregnancy. When the pregnancy can’t continue, the lining needs to be shed.

Because your body has been preparing for pregnancy, there will be more lining and tissue, so your bleeding will be heavier than a period. The further along you are in the pregnancy, the heavier it will be.

To absorb the bleeding, you’ll need to wear a pad. ACOG doesn’t recommend using tampons during a miscarriage. And because the bleeding may last longer and be heavier than a typical period, you may notice some discomfort from moisture accumulation.

To combat any discomfort, change your pad frequently and clean the area gently with water, avoiding soap.

The change in the vaginal environment from bleeding may also cause a yeast or bacteria overgrowth that could lead to vaginal odor. If you notice any signs of a yeast infection such as itching, or if the discharge becomes very foul smelling, call a doctor.

Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can be caused by hormone changes, as well as side effects from any medication you take to manage the miscarriage. Diarrhea can also be caused by the relaxing of the smooth muscle, just like you experience with a period.

To combat nausea symptoms, drink plenty of water and try to eat small meals consisting of bland, gentle-on-the-stomach foods. These can include:

  • rice
  • bananas
  • oatmeal
  • scrambled eggs
  • plain grilled chicken

If your symptoms are making it hard for you to keep food down or stay hydrated, ask your doctor about taking an antinausea or antidiarrheal medication.

Similar to how your period cramps can lead to back pain, the uterine contractions during a miscarriage can cause back pain. This is usually felt in the lower back and the pain can be mild, moderate, or severe.

You can treat it just like you would your cramps — with pain relievers and heating pads — but if it’s really uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor what else you can do.

Shoulder pain is a symptom of ectopic pregnancy and it’s a serious medical emergency. If you have severe, one-sided pain, dizziness or fever, or pain affecting your rectum, pelvis, shoulder, or neck, call your doctor or get urgent medical care right away.

Ectopic pregnancy may not cause bleeding, so it can be a harder type of pregnancy to identify.

It’s normal to feel tired and weak with a miscarriage. You may also have a headache. If you experience excessive dizziness or feel like you may faint, tell your doctor or call your local urgent care center.

It’s also important to rest and drink plenty of water to manage these symptoms. Try to sleep, stay hydrated, and eat nutrient-dense foods.

No matter how far along in your pregnancy you are when you miscarry, you’re allowed to feel grief. Miscarriage emotions can be complicated and messy. You may feel both sad and relieved that it’s over, or you may feel intense and sometimes overwhelming grief.

No matter your situation, you might feel disappointed, hopeless, or scared to conceive again. You might experience anxiety, mood swings and irritability, and even depression.

Talking about your loss can help. Try turning to trusted friends and family members, social media groups, or a mental health professional. Miscarriage can also lead to clinical depression, similar to postpartum depression — so be sure to seek medical attention if you experience any symptoms.

The severity of your miscarriage symptoms will depend on how far along you are in your pregnancy and what type of miscarriage you have. Still, a miscarriage at any stage can be difficult because all bodies respond differently.

You may choose expectant management to let your body pass the tissue on its own, you might use medication that can speed up the process, or you may choose a surgical procedure called a dilation and curettage (D&C) to remove the contents of the uterus.

The bleeding that occurs with miscarriage can be different for everyone, too. In general, you can expect menstrual-like bleeding for about a week. After that, spotting can continue for several weeks — sometimes even until your next period. And when is that? Again, it varies: Your menstrual cycle can restart anywhere between 4 to 8 weeks after the miscarriage.

Depending on the timing of your miscarriage and how it’s managed, it may be 2 or 3 weeks before you’re feeling like yourself again physically. In some cases, your doctor may order an ultrasound to confirm that your uterus is clear of retained tissue.

For some people, the emotional pain of a miscarriage can last much longer. It’s important to remember that the stage of your pregnancy when you miscarried doesn’t matter: You experienced a loss, and loss naturally comes with feelings of grief.

Sometimes that grief can get too big for you to handle on your own. As with postpartum depression after a birth, symptoms of depression can develop after a miscarriage. In fact, according to a 2015 journal article, nearly 20 percent of women report symptoms of depression and/or anxiety after miscarriage.

If you think you might be depressed or are simply struggling to manage your emotional recovery after miscarriage, don’t be afraid or ashamed to reach out for support. A licensed mental health professional can help you process your loss and begin to heal.

You can also look for a miscarriage support group to connect with other people who have shared your experience. You can search or contact any of the following resources for local and online miscarriage support groups:

Miscarriage can be a difficult experience on your body, mind, and heart. You can help ease physical symptoms with rest, fluids, OTC pain relievers — and stay in touch with your doctor if you have any complications.

It’s also important to address the emotional pain of a miscarriage. Talking to a mental health professional or finding support from a local or online pregnancy loss group can help you take steps toward healing.