When a baby dies in the second trimester of pregnancy, their death is either a miscarriage or a stillbirth. Stillbirth in the U.S. is defined as when a baby dies after 20 weeks gestation. A death before 20 weeks gestation is called a miscarriage. A second trimester miscarriage is a miscarriage between 12 completed weeks and 20 weeks. How a second trimester miscarriage is managed differs greatly between care providers. This post is the information I give my clients when they are told the unfortunate news that they are experiencing a second trimester miscarriage.
There are multiple factors when it comes to options for delivering a baby who has died or will die before 20 weeks gestation. Many care providers immediately state that the patient needs a surgical procedure called a D&C; although beyond 12 weeks gestation (in the second trimester), the surgical procedure is a D&E; which is different and I will explain those differences.
First; however, let me state that if the woman is experiencing a missed miscarriage, a D&C may be performed instead of a D&E. For example, if the woman goes to her 16 week appointment only to discover her baby died at 11 weeks gestation, the doctor will likely recommend a D&C. But, if the woman goes to her 16 week appointment and the baby has recently died, then a D&E would be recommended (even if the doctor calls the procedure a D&C).
When a doctor recommends surgery for the miscarriage, a woman usually schedules the procedure either for that day or within a week but rarely is the woman given any other options.
There are other options for second trimester miscarriage.
Just like with first trimester miscarriage, a woman has three options for miscarriage.
- Expectant Management (wait and see approach).
- Medical Management (using a medication to induce the miscarriage/delivery)
- Surgical Management (D&C or D&E)
When it comes to second trimester miscarriage, the number one cited reason for surgical management of miscarriage is risk of infection from leaving the baby or “pregnancy tissue” in the uterus. Yet, in the several hours of research on this particular topic, I could not find any substantial data to prove that a woman was at a higher risk of infection with expectant management of miscarriage versus surgical management of miscarriage.
This Cochrane Review explained that the risk for infection with expectant management of miscarriage was similar to surgical management; although I did find information here that suggests there is a 1% risk of infection with expectant management and this site suggests 0% to 10% chance of infection with expectant management. This leads me to believe it’s not well studied, especially in the second trimester since second trimester miscarriage and pregnancy loss is less common.
Nearly ALL the websites I explored stated that the woman’s preference should be utilized. But here lies the conundrum because care providers are only presenting one option for second trimester miscarriage; the D&E.
The D&E (dilatation and evacuation) is generally performed for miscarriages over 12 weeks gestation. The difference between a D&C and D&E procedure is that during a D&E, the surgeon dilates the cervix and then uses a grasping instrument (forceps) to remove the baby (sometimes in parts) and then uses a vacuum or curettage to suction and scrape the remaining tissue in the uterus.
In essence, because the uterus is not dilated big enough to remove the entire baby all at once, the baby must be removed in pieces and once removed, a curettage procedure is performed. While this is a very effective and viable option, some women and their partners would like to see and hold their baby, possibly take pictures of and with their baby, receive handprints/footprints from their baby, wash their baby, dress their baby, provide dignified services such as baptisms or blessings, and bury or cremate their baby. Some of these options might be available with a D&E but not all of them.
If I were your bereavement doula, I would personally walk you through these options and discuss them at length so you can make the best decision for your family. Hiring a bereavement doula is highly recommended for miscarriage and stillbirth. It is nearly impossible to explain in such detail here all a bereavement doula would present and help you with in this scenario. Please reach out if you would like to know more, I can help from afar as well.
There is no definitive amount of time on when labor will begin with expectant management. I use the term labor, because it is labor. It is NOT a heavy period, especially in the second trimester. Your cervix still has to soften (efface) and dilate (open) in order for the uterus to contract and push out the baby (“contents”).
Expectant management of second trimester miscarriage could take days, weeks, or even months to complete. Waiting is not always an option for women both physically and emotionally. Preparing to deliver a baby at home would also need to be considered as many women are sent home to give birth to their deceased baby. I do not recommend having such a large baby at home on your own and always recommend to my clients that they are admitted to the hospital for induction. Too many women have gone home to either wait for the baby or utilize medical management (taking medication to induce a miscarriage) and ended up in the emergency room bleeding severely and requiring a blood transfusion.
In my blog post, How to Prepare for Your Miscarriage, I explain in depth the materials needed in order to have a miscarriage at home. If you are considering this option, please read the information and prepare accordingly. If you are uncomfortable with the risks or seeing such an early baby, a hospital induction is an option. Care providers may give some push-back on this option and of course, there may be higher medical costs associated with this option but if you want to deliver your baby in a hospital with all the medical equipment needed for the risks, you can and should have this option.
I want to end this post with the risks of D&E. I have not linked to any specific website on this procedure as it may be too traumatic because the websites that list the risks are for abortion, not second trimester miscarriage. However, should you want to confirm the risks I list, you may conduct an internet search “Risks of D&E” which will provide the information.
The risks of the D&E are very similar to the risks of a D&C.
- Injury to the cervix and/or uterine lining.
- Uterine perforation (the provider punctures a hole in the uterus)
- Retained products of conception, fetal tissue, or other tissue (requiring a second surgery)
- Uterine rupture (from medications frequently used before the procedure to prepare the cervix)
- Blood clots
It is also important to note that with a second trimester miscarriage, you may go through baby blues and/or depression just like a woman who has a full term, live birth and you may lactate and/or have engorged breasts. These are more likely to occur after 16 weeks gestation although I have had a few clients with 14 week losses who lactated (breastmilk).
I highly recommend you purchase the book, It’s Not ‘Just’ a Heavy Period; The Miscarriage Handbook to help you through this process. It explains miscarriage more in depth.