Pregnancy Loss and Grief | OB-GYN


Pregnancy Loss and Grief

Our skilled teams guide you through this difficult time with expert medical care and compassionate support. We are by your side whenever you need us.

Medically reviewed by Melissa Chen, M.D. on July 18, 2023.

Female health care provider sitting with her hand on female patient’s hands

Compassionate Care to Help You Through Pregnancy Loss

Our UC Davis Health Early Pregnancy and Miscarriage Center provides comprehensive, compassionate care for patients who experience pregnancy loss. Our specialists understand the medical and emotional needs associated with miscarriage and stillbirth. We listen to you and provide education and support to help you cope with your loss.

Most women can have a successful pregnancy after a miscarriage or stillbirth. If you choose to become pregnant again, our team is by your side to help you have a healthy pregnancy and baby.

What Is Pregnancy Loss?

Losing a pregnancy can be a painful experience for you and your family. You may feel many emotions, including sadness, anger and guilt.

Everyone processes loss differently. Getting the right support during this time can help you grieve and take steps toward hope and solace.

Pregnancy loss can happen any time in pregnancy but is most common during the first trimester. About 80% of fetal losses occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, sometimes before you know you are pregnant.

Health care providers classify pregnancy loss according to when they occur:

  • Miscarriage is a loss before 20 weeks.
  • Stillbirth is a loss after 20 weeks.

Pregnancy Loss Symptoms

The presence, type and severity of pregnancy loss symptoms vary widely. It’s important to pay attention to changes in how you feel and seek care if something doesn’t feel right.

Common Symptoms

Call your provider right away if you notice:

  • Bleeding or leakage of vaginal fluid
  • Abdominal pain or cramping

Causes of Pregnancy Loss

Pregnancy loss can occur because of genetic changes or health problems in you or your baby. In many cases, health care providers don’t know why pregnancy loss happens.

Causes of Miscarriage

Early pregnancy loss is most often due to random chromosomal abnormalities in the sperm or egg. A fetus with too many, too few or irregular chromosomes cannot develop as it should.

Causes of Stillbirth

About one-third of pregnancy losses after 20 weeks have no known cause. When the cause is known, it is often a problem with the placenta (the organ that passes blood between you and your baby), umbilical cord or uterus. Other stillbirth causes include pregnancy complications and congenital abnormalities.


Miscarriage and Stillbirth Risk Factors


Being pregnant younger than 15 and older than 45 increases the chance of pregnancy loss.

Prenatal Exposures

Exposure to certain chemicals, radiation or infections during pregnancy can harm you or your baby.

Health Behaviors

Smoking or drug use during pregnancy is associated with pregnancy loss.

Health Conditions

Many health conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, are linked to a higher risk of pregnancy loss.

Multiple Fetuses

Your risk of pregnancy loss is higher if you have more than one fetus (twins, triplets or more).

Previous Pregnancy Complications

Complications during a previous pregnancy may increase your chance of pregnancy loss.


Detecting Pregnancy Loss

Ultrasound is the main test health care providers use to check the health of your baby. An ultrasound uses sound waves to produce images of the fetus.

If you have a miscarriage, you may pass part or all of the pregnancy tissue. Using an ultrasound, your health care provider can see whether tissue is still present and help you decide your next steps.

Your provider may also perform a blood test to measure human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) levels. This hormone increases rapidly during early pregnancy. A drop in hCG can indicate miscarriage.

Pregnancy Loss Treatments at UC Davis Health

If you do not require emergency care, you have time to decide what treatment you want. Our specialists explain your options and help you make a decision that aligns with your preferences and values.

Pregnancy loss treatments include:

Expectant Management

Miscarriages in the first trimester usually pass on their own within 8 weeks. This watch and wait approach includes monitoring but no treatment. Your provider will review what to expect and when to seek medical care.


For first trimester pregnancy loss, medications can help speed the passage of pregnancy tissue from your uterus. With medications, most women pass the pregnancy completely within one to three days.

Suction Evacuation

Surgical removal of the pregnancy tissue through your cervix (the organ between your uterus and vagina) is an option, typically until about 24 weeks. The type of procedure varies depending on how far along you are in pregnancy.

Induction of Labor

For pregnancies beyond 24 weeks, labor is usually the safest option. You receive medication to induce labor and delivery in the UC Davis Health Birth Center.

Cesarean Section

The risk of maternal complications is higher with cesarean section (C-section). Health care providers usually recommend cesarean section only when other treatments are not an option or have failed.


An autopsy can help you find out the reason for your pregnancy loss. It may also help you avoid another loss in the future. The decision to have an autopsy is yours.

Follow-Up Care

We track your recovery after pregnancy. We let you know what to expect and when you can resume regular activities. If you choose to become pregnant again, we are with you at every step.

Counseling and Support

Our team understands your need to heal physically and emotionally. We are committed to providing comprehensive education, assistance and support for you and your family. Read pregnancy loss tips and advice from a UC Davis Health social worker.


Preventing Pregnancy Loss

In many cases, you cannot prevent a miscarriage or stillbirth. But you can increase your chance of a successful pregnancy by maintaining good health. Steps you can take before and during pregnancy include: 

  • Avoid alcohol, smoking, drug use and exposure to harmful chemicals. 
  • Eat a healthy diet. 
  • Maintain a healthy weight. 
  • Manage health conditions. 
  • Prevent infections
  • Take a daily prenatal vitamin. 
  • Talk to your health care provider before taking prescription or over-the-counter medications.

"Miscarriage," NIH National Library of Medicine,

Miscarriage rates

1 in 10Pregnancies in the U.S. end in miscarriage, among women who know they’re pregnan

Stillbirth rates

1 in 175Pregnancies in the U.S. end in stillbirth

Sources: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Early Pregnancy Loss 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): What is Stillbirth?

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