Currently in the UK, 1 in every 5 pregnancies end in miscarriage (source: Tommy’s) – the name given to a pregnancy loss before 24 weeks. It’s a devastating experience. Help and support is key to get through it but women only qualify for miscarriage support once they’ve had 3 or more miscarriages (also known as recurrent miscarriage).
But, thanks to petitions and research spearheaded by Tommy’s (a UK charity researching stillbirth and baby loss), that looks set to change.
After 4 years of campaigning, the charity, together with MPs and celebrity Myleene Klass, has persuaded the government to change the law and, amongst other things, provide women who’ve suffered pregnancy loss a care package after the first time it happens.
Its proposal in the Pregnancy Loss Review published by the government earlier this summer (July 2023) recommends that ‘NHS England should work with the Royal Colleges to develop standard primary and secondary care clinical guidelines for miscarriage to include the Tommy’s Graded Model’ – a care plan that Tommy’s trialled at Birmingham Women’s Hospital. (See below for details).
Although it will take time and funding to roll out across all trusts, it’s hoped it won’t be long before women across the country get the pregnancy loss support they need.
Until then, here’s what you need to know about miscarriage help and support right now – and how it could look in the not too distant future.
What is a miscarriage and what causes it?
The NHS defines it as ‘a loss of pregnancy during the first 23 weeks’. Symptoms can include cramping, vaginal bleeding and pain in your lower abdomen.
If you suffer any of the following symptoms it could be something more serious, such as an ectopic pregnancy:
- persistent and severe tummy pain, usually on one side
- vaginal bleeding or spotting, commonly after the pain has started
- pain in your shoulder tip
- diarrhoea and vomiting
- feeling very faint and lightheaded, and possibly fainting.
Get medical help immediately as an ectopic pregnancy can be fatal.
Although there are things you can do to reduce your risk of miscarriage, such as not drinking alcohol and not smoking, the majority of miscarriages cannot be prevented, says ZoomDoc GP, Dr Leah Austin.
‘Most will be caused by a chromosome abnormality, not something you’ve done,’ she says.
What happens now if you have a miscarriage?
If you think you’re having a miscarriage, call your GP, midwife or nearest Early Pregnancy Unit (EPU). You’ll most likely have an ultrasound scan to see what’s happening and can form a plan from there.
‘Some women won’t even realise they’ve miscarried until they go to their 12 or 16-week scan and there’s no heartbeat detected,’ says Dr Leah.
Currently there’s no specific care package or follow-up until this happens for the third time in a row or more, something called recurrent miscarriages, which is relatively uncommon affecting around 1 in 100 women.
What changes are expected for miscarriage support?
In a bid to improve pregnancy loss care, the government published its Pregnancy Loss review recommending the following care package as recommended by Tommy’s:
- After 1 miscarriage – women would be able to see a healthcare professional and have mental health screening and guidance and information about reducing the risk of future miscarriages.
- After 2 miscarriages – an appointment to do further tests, such as blood count and specialist care.
- After 3 miscarriages – a consultant-led appointment should be offered with access to additional tests, including genetic testing, scanning, screening and treatment.
When these changes will come into effect is not known but watch this space …
Miscarriage support – where to get help in the meantime?
If you’re struggling or know someone who is finding it difficult to come to terms with pregnancy loss, there is help available.
ZoomDoc GPs are on the end of a phone to help with symptoms or referrals to see a specialist, if required. Our GP referral letter can help speed up the process of seeing a gynaecologist sooner, without needing to add further stress to the situation of getting a GP appointment and then going to collect (and pay for) your letter at a later date.
Simply order yours online here.
And remember, it’s completely normal and healthy to feel bereaved and need time to grieve your loss. If you need help with this, or support from experts, ask your GP or contact:
- Tommy’s – for support and advice following a pregnancy loss, you can contact the team at email@example.com. You can also call them for free on 0800 014 7800 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm).
- The Miscarriage Association – a charity that offers support to people who have lost a baby. Call them on 01924 200 799) and they can put you in touch with a support volunteer.
- Cruse Bereavement Care – call them on 0808 808 1677 or you can find a network of local branches offering support near you.