The many joys of pregnancy can only be matched by the multitude of challenges women and their partners face through the entire journey. And even if one follows all the “do’s” and “don’ts” featured in a full library of baby books, there exist a plethora of factors and phenomena beyond anyone’s control that can impact that journey for better or worse. Among the latter are chemical pregnancies, which are relatively common, but no less scary or traumatic. The silver lining? They do serve as a sign that a woman can conceive and are not predictors of longer-term pregnancy prospects or baby health.
What is chemical pregnancy and when does it occur?
Chemical pregnancy is a very early miscarriage that occurs typically around week four or five of gestation (about the same time as a woman’s expected menstrual period) and may constitute anywhere from 50-75% of all miscarriages.
What does chemical pregnancy bleeding look like?
Because chemical pregnancies occur so early after conception (before an ultrasound can detect pregnancy) and manifest themselves via heavy bleeding and cramping, many women may mistake them for their regular periods unless they’ve already gotten a positive pregnancy test. In fact, chemical pregnancies derived their name from the fact that the chemicals in a pregnancy test returned a positive result versus clinical pregnancies which are confirmed by an ultrasound.
What causes a chemical pregnancy?
Physiologically speaking, chemical pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg doesn’t fully implant in the uterus. Among the possible factors that could cause a chemical pregnancy are the following:
- Chromosomal abnormalities (most common)
- Inadequate hormone levels
- Improper implantation
- Thin uterus lining, which could inhibit implantation
- Low weight
- Issues with DNA in the sperm
Of course there are also certain risk factors that could increase the likelihood of a chemical pregnancy. These include:
- Being 35 or older
- Untreated clotting disorders
- Untreated thyroid conditions
- Other medical conditions, such as uncontrolled diabetes
Chemical pregnancy is also common after in vitro fertilization (IVF) and other fertility procedures, with up to one in four IVF pregnancies resulting in a chemical pregnancy. As the pregnancy hormone hCG is released after IVF implementation, it’ll render a positive result on a pregnancy test, but the embryo may not ultimately develop. It is important to note that such a high occurrence of IVF-related chemical pregnancy may be more a product of the early pregnancy testing after IVF (performed within two weeks of the procedure) than any evidence of causation.
What are chemical pregnancy symptoms?
The symptoms of a chemical pregnancy include heavy bleeding as mentioned above as well as clots in period blood and menstrual-like cramps. It’s important to keep in mind that light bleeding is normal during pregnancy and not necessarily a sign of chemical pregnancy. In any event, if you’re experiencing these or any other concerning symptoms, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor for an evaluation. A simple blood or urine test can confirm whether you’ve experienced a chemical pregnancy.
Is a chemical pregnancy a good sign of fertility?
While emotionally distressing, take heart that a chemical pregnancy is also a good sign that you can get pregnant; in fact, you could get pregnant again as soon as two weeks after a confirmed chemical pregnancy. Of course, it’s always a good idea to see your doctor to rule out any other issues that could inhibit pregnancy, especially if you’ve experienced multiple chemical pregnancies.
And, just as crucially, don’t hesitate to confide in your doctor, partner or a licensed therapist if you feel you need support in dealing with your loss. While it’s highly likely that you’ll conceive again and ultimately deliver a healthy baby, mourning your loss through a chemical pregnancy is natural and could not only help you cope but also get you emotionally ready to try again.
When you do get pregnant again, be sure to check out Enfamil’s articles on pregnancy development week-by-week and tips and advice on what to expect at each stage of your pregnancy. Discover what you need to know about pregnancy nutrition and nourishing your baby's healthy growth and everything you need for planning for your baby.