How to navigate the chemical pregnancy progression - Ruth Health

How to navigate the chemical pregnancy progression

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Fast facts:

  • A chemical pregnancy is a very early miscarriage. It occurs when an embryo stops developing within the first five weeks of a pregnancy.
  • Some people learn of a chemical pregnancy when they get their period shortly after a positive pregnancy test, but many chemical pregnancies go unnoticed.
  • The vast majority are caused by a chromosomal abnormality with the embryo — not by anything that a pregnant person has done.
  • If you have had more than one chemical pregnancy, reach out to your doctor for testing. By learning the potential cause, you can take steps to increase your chances of a healthy pregnancy.

Individuals who have faced any type of pregnancy loss deserve the space to grieve and heal. As part of the broader conversation about miscarriage, we need greater recognition and discussion of chemical pregnancies, which happen within the first five weeks of a pregnancy.

Ruth Health is with you at every step of the pregnancy journey, even and especially the hard parts. To help you navigate early pregnancy loss, we’ve compiled key facts about the chemical pregnancy progression.

What is a chemical pregnancy?

A chemical pregnancy is a very early miscarriage. It occurs when a fertilized egg, or embryo, stops growing within the first five weeks of a pregnancy. In some cases, the embryo may have already implanted in the uterus.

The word chemical in chemical pregnancy refers to the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotrophic (hCG) hormone. The presence of this hormone in your body during a chemical pregnancy results in a positive test. Your hCG levels will decline as the embryo stops developing.

Sometimes a chemical pregnancy becomes apparent when a person gets their period not long after a positive pregnancy test. In other cases, this type of early miscarriage is never discovered.

Those who do learn of their chemical pregnancy experience the loss in different ways. All feelings are valid.

What are the signs of a chemical pregnancy?

The main symptom of a chemical pregnancy is a late period, which is why such an early pregnancy loss can go unnoticed.

If you have a positive pregnancy test but then get your period shortly thereafter, or if you receive negative pregnancy test results several weeks later, it’s likely that you have had a chemical pregnancy.

Additional signs of a chemical pregnancy:

  • A heavier-than-usual period
  • More intense menstrual cramps
  • Mild spotting a week before your period would typically occur

Keep in mind that many birthing people (but not all) experience light bleeding or spotting in a healthy pregnancy. This can be the result of the embryo’s successful implantation in the uterus, hormonal changes, or sex.

What causes a chemical pregnancy?

Miscarriages, including chemical pregnancies, aren’t caused by anything a pregnant person has done. 

The majority occur because of an underlying problem with the pregnancy, most commonly a chromosomal abnormality that made the embryo nonviable from the beginning of conception.

You may be more likely to have a chemical pregnancy or other type of miscarriage if you are in your early 40s or older or have specific health conditions. This includes diabetes, high blood pressure, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and other hormone imbalances, and autoimmune or thyroid issues.

If you have one of these conditions, working with your healthcare provider to manage symptoms as part of your preconception planning can increase your chances of a healthy pregnancy.

It is more common to detect a chemical pregnancy if you are trying to conceive through in vitro fertilization (IVF) since the process entails more frequent pregnancy tests and closer monitoring. However, this method of conception is not a risk factor for a chemical pregnancy.

Is physical aftercare necessary?

In the vast majority of cases, no. Pregnancy loss only requires physical treatment if remaining pregnancy tissue in the uterus needs to be removed. In general, chemical pregnancies occur too early for this to be the case.

At the same time, it’s important to remember that pregnancy loss is both a physical and emotional experience. The absence of physical treatment following a chemical pregnancy does not invalidate what this loss means to you, or the feelings that have arisen.

How does a chemical pregnancy affect future pregnancies?

Having a chemical pregnancy does not mean you won’t become pregnant in the future. At least 85% of women who have had a miscarriage go on to have a healthy pregnancy and give birth.

How soon you begin trying to conceive again after an early miscarriage is up to you (and your partner, if starting a family as a couple).

Another pregnancy is possible as early as two weeks after a chemical pregnancy, when ovulation resumes, but your emotional readiness matters just as much.

Some individuals experience recurrent pregnancy loss. If you have had more than one chemical pregnancy, consult with your doctor about testing to identify a possible underlying cause.

Depending on test results, there may be steps you can take to increase your chances of a healthy pregnancy, for example:

  • Treating a previously undiagnosed infection such as gonorrhea
  • Correcting a uterine abnormality with a surgical procedure
  • Addressing hormonal imbalances such as PCOS

IVF may be an option for some individuals experiencing recurrent miscarriages. The process allows for genetic screening of embryos prior to implantation in the uterus. 

This helps your doctor select the healthiest embryos for implantation, which in turn reduces the likelihood of miscarriage.

The importance of support after a chemical pregnancy

Pregnancy loss of any kind can be emotionally painful, regardless of how early it happens or if the pregnancy was planned. Give yourself the time and space to process your feelings.

There are resources that can support your emotional and mental well-being. Don’t hesitate to ask a healthcare provider or another trusted professional about pregnancy loss support groups or a referral for therapy.

The importance of support after a chemical pregnancy

At Ruth Health, we understand that nobody knows what you need better than you. We provide expert, evidence-based maternal advice so that you can make the best decisions for yourself.

If you have additional questions about chemical pregnancies, check out Ask A Doula by Ruth Health, a new service that offers unlimited texting access to a doula for personalized support with challenges like pregnancy loss.

Get started for free.

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