What is a chemical pregnancy?
Chemical pregnancies defined
Signs of a chemical pregnancy
Possible causes of a chemical pregnancy
When it’s not a chemical pregnancy
When a very early pregnancy loss occurs, it is sometimes called a chemical pregnancy. This happens more often than you might think and is thought to be responsible for up to three-quarters of all pregnancy losses.
A woman who experiences a chemical pregnancy may not even realize that she was pregnant at all unless she keeps close track of her menstrual cycles, because the only symptom of a chemical pregnancy is usually a late period.
“Sometimes in tragedy, we find our life’s purpose.”
Although a chemical pregnancy may be disappointing or even devastating if you had confirmed your pregnancy, it is essential to remember that this does not mean you won’t conceive and successfully give birth to a child in the future.
A chemical pregnancy often happens when a fertilized egg migrates to the uterus but fails to implant fully.
Experiencing a chemical pregnancy does not mean that there is something wrong with you or your reproductive functioning.
Why did this happen?
You may have had enough hormones in your system to have a positive pregnancy test from your blood or urine, but there is no actual gestational sac or placenta developing. If your doctor performs an ultrasound to confirm your pregnancy, it will show that there has been no implantation.
About a week after you would have had your normal menstrual cycle, you will start bleeding. You may or may not feel cramping, and the flow may be heavier than usual.
Several risk factors can increase your likelihood of experiencing a chemical pregnancy, but doctors speculate that the majority of them happen randomly because of chromosomal abnormalities.
Other issues include being under 20 or over 35, having certain medical conditions (diagnosed or undiagnosed), being overweight or underweight, having an STD, or having had a previous complicated pregnancy.
More risk factors
Specific medical problems that may predispose you to have a chemical pregnancy are lupus, asthma, diabetes, thyroid disease, uterine fibroids, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
These are not all of the conditions that can make you more inclined to experience a chemical pregnancy, so you must discuss your medical history, medications, any surgeries that you may have had, and your current medical problems with your doctor.
Unfortunately, there is a normal happening soon after conception that can be mistaken for a chemical pregnancy. This is called implantation bleeding. It is characterized by light bleeding or spotting very early in a pregnancy.
Not all women experience this, and if they do, it is not dangerous. However, it is still recommended that pregnant women call their doctor if they experience any bleeding at all in pregnancy.
“Some people don’t feel they have a right to grieve for their lost baby, if the loss happened in early pregnancy. The truth is everyone has the right to grieve, and grieving isn’t even a choice we can make, it’s an essential part of healing a broken heart.”
What to discuss with your doctor
Your doctor will figure out if there is a problem with your pregnancy, and whether or not you are truly pregnant. He or she will take a thorough medical history and most likely perform a transvaginal ultrasound to assess your condition.
Signs of a chemical pregnancy that you should mention are whether your bleeding is heavy or light, if you’ve been having cramping, and when you missed your period. Your doctor might also take a blood test to determine your current hormone levels.
It is imperative to remember and remind yourself that a chemical pregnancy is not your fault and that you are allowed to be upset about it or grieve if you need to.
It can be tremendously disappointing to believe that you are pregnant and then find out that you are not. A chemical pregnancy is not the same thing as a miscarriage, but it can certainly feel the same.
What if I’m infertile?
If you have more than three chemical pregnancies in succession, it may be time to fully assess your health with your doctor to rule out an underlying illness. If you are trying to have a baby, you may also want to consider seeing a fertility specialist if you are experiencing serial chemical pregnancies.
However, if you have only experienced one chemical pregnancy, this is considered normal and you may begin trying to conceive as soon as you are ready.
A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:
Tips on foods and habits to avoid during pregnancy.
Ideas for making your life easier the second time around.