08 Dec Chemical pregnancy – 10 things you should know
What exactly is a chemical (or biochemical) pregnancy? Like other pregnancy failures, it’s a clunky name that doesn’t really describe the situation (see blighted ovum – the most ineptly named miscarriage ever). So here are 10 things you should know about a chemical pregnancy.
1. A chemical pregnancy happens early.
A chemical pregnancy is an early miscarriage. So early, in fact, that you may not know you had one. Or indeed that you were pregnant at all. A chemical pregnancy occurs when you’re four to six weeks pregnant – i.e. before you’ve had an ultrasound scan.
2. It’s chemical, but not for long.
It’s called a chemical pregnancy because, however short-lived the pregnancy, your body produced a ‘chemical’ (i.e. a hormone) called HCG. You may have done a home pregnancy test and got a positive result. That’s the HCG telling your body implantation happened.
3. HCG goes down, and bleeding begins.
A biochemical pregnancy follows a depressingly similar pattern. After your initial positive test (if you did one), you start bleeding. And/or you do a second test a little later and the result is negative. The HCG has nosedived. It’s a very upsetting situation if you had knowledge of the pregnancy.
4. Fertility patients are tuned in.
Women having fertility treatment know more about chemical pregnancies than couples who conceive naturally. That’s because they test 12 to 14 days after their embryo transfer. They’re majorly on the case, watching every moment. Whereas non-IVF patients may just think their period is late.
Interesting fact. A 2015 study found that biochemical pregnancies were less likely after IVF treatment than in natural pregnancies. This may be because ‘better’ embryos are selected.
5. Symptoms confuse – or lack of them.
A chemical pregnancy doesn’t always have symptoms. You may have some cramping. Or a discharge. Or a little bleeding before the longer withdrawal bleed. Or no symptoms at all.
6. Chemical pregnancies are chromosomal, and common.
Around 50 per cent of first-time pregnancies end in a chemical pregnancy. It’s the most common form of miscarriage. The cause is usually a chromosomal abnormality in the embryo. Hormonal imbalances and blood-clotting problems can also cause a chemical pregnancy.
7. The future is bright.
Research shows that many women have successful pregnancies after a chemical pregnancy. You’re not jinxed. Repeated early miscarriages, however, merit further investigation. And you’re more likely to have a chemical pregnancy at 40 than 25.
In terms of fertility treatment, other embryos can still lead to a successful pregnancy. As a 2013 study on assisted conception and biochemical pregnancies suggested, a biochemical pregnancy is ‘a dark cloud with a silver lining’.
8. Optimise your health – it may help.
Generally speaking, you can’t guard against a chemical pregnancy. That said, a good diet and regular exercise are a good idea if you’re trying to get pregnant. Stop smoking, reduce alcohol and cut out caffeine. And limit stress. (Easier said than know, we know.)
9. Bleeding means something, or nothing.
Implantation bleeding (if you have this) happens a week or two before bleeding from a chemical pregnancy (if you have that). Don’t confuse the two. And don’t think early bleeding always means a miscarriage – it often doesn’t. Bleeding happens in countless pregnancies, but the majority still get to live birth.
10. Scan early, and test more than once.
Always have an early scan (at seven weeks) to confirm a suspected chemical pregnancy or other form of miscarriage. Your bleed, and falling HCG scores, will give a good indication the pregnancy has failed. So do two or three consecutive blood tests, 48 hours apart, for a stronger indication of a biochemical pregnancy. But the early scan will be conclusive.
A final thought. A miscarriage is always devastating, whenever it comes. A chemical pregnancy was still a hoped-for pregnancy and you have every right to feel extremely upset. Just remember: chemical pregnancies are surprisingly common. A successful future pregnancy is usually perfectly possible. Don’t give up – you will get there.