What's a Chemical Pregnancy? (2023)

Getting your period a week after a positive pregnancy test can be confusing and frightening, but it’s actually much more common than you might realize. You may have experienced what’s often referred to as a chemical pregnancy.

Many women who have a chemical pregnancy actually don’t even realize they’ve conceived. But having a chemical pregnancy doesn't indicate that there’s something wrong with you or that you won’t one day give birth to a healthy baby.

What is a chemical pregnancy?

A chemical pregnancy is a very early pregnancy loss that happens when an egg is fertilized and implants in the uterus, but is unable to grow normally. It usually occurs at around week 4 to 5 of your menstrual cycle.

In pregnancy, a fertilized egg implants in the uterine wall about three weeks after the first day of your last menstrual period. Cells that would become the placenta begin to produce levels of the pregnancy hormone hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) that by the time or your expected period are high enough to detect on a blood or urine test.

With a chemical pregnancy, this implantation does not progress, and the cells don’t develop all the way into an embryo and placenta. This results in bleeding a few days to a week after your regular period was due.

Chemical pregnancies are extremely common. In fact, experts actually believe this very early pregnancy loss may account for up to 50 percent of all conceptions.

Often, the only sign of a chemical pregnancy is a late period. You’ll only know if you had a pregnancy loss if you happened totake an early pregnancy test soon after conception.

Signs of a chemical pregnancy

Many women don’t realize they’ve had a chemical pregnancy. Symptoms that indicate you might have had a chemical pregnancy include:

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  • An early positive pregnancy test result followed by your period several weeks later
  • A late period

Implantation bleeding vs. a chemical pregnancy

Light spotting or bleeding following a positive pregnancy test doesn’t necessarily mean you’re having a chemical pregnancy. Some (but not all) women experience light implantation bleeding, which is a sign that you are pregnant.

On the other hand, heavy bleeding andmenstrual-like cramps in pregnancy may indicate an impending early loss.

Either way, if you experience any bleeding after a positive pregnancy test, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends calling your doctor.

(Video) What is a Chemical Pregnancy?

What causes a chemical pregnancy?

Most early pregnancy losses, including chemical pregnancies, are caused by chromosomal abnormalities.

At the start of a pregnancy, an egg and a sperm combine 23 chromosomes from each partner to form a zygote with 46 chromosomes. The zygote begins to grow through rapid cell division, evolves into a blastocyst and implants in the uterine wall.

In a chemical pregnancy:

  • A sperm or an egg has too many chromosomes or not enough.
  • After conception, the resulting zygote (early embryo) also has an abnormal number of chromosomes.
  • This chromosomal abnormality causes errors that make it so that the embryo can’t develop normally.

Chromosomal abnormalities occur randomly and can happen to anyone. However, the chance of chromosomal abnormalities increases significantly with age.

Chemical pregnancies definitely don’t mean you won’t be able to get pregnant and stay pregnant in the future.

Chemical pregnancy risk factors

Several risk factors can put you at a higher risk of early pregnancy loss. These include:

  • Being 35 or older
  • Untreated clotting disorders
  • Untreated thyroid conditions
  • Other medical conditions, such as uncontrolled diabetes

Chemical pregnancies and IVF

Chemical pregnancies are also a possibility if you’ve gone throughin vitro fertilization (IVF) — and in fact, they can occur quite frequently after IVF or another fertility procedure. But the good news is that an early pregnancy loss like this one can mean a greater chance of conceiving in future IVF cycles as compared with women who have only negative pregnancy tests.

While experiencing a chemical pregnancy after undergoing infertility treatments is certainly disheartening and may even prompt you to stop IVF attempts altogether, the science is on your side. Talk with your doctor about your chances of conception and whether another round of IVF is advised.

While chemical pregnancies do not occur more often with fertility therapies, they tend to be identified more often in this situation, because patients getting fertility therapies are often taking many early pregnancy tests.

Recovery and grief after a chemical pregnancy

A chemical pregnancy may appear more like a cycle in which a pregnancy never occurred than a miscarriage later in pregnancy. But emotionally, it can be a very different story.

It’s natural to feel upsetno matter how early a pregnancy loss occurs. Let yourself grieve if you need to.

Remember that a chemical pregnancy isnotyour fault. Since most miscarriages are caused by chromosomal accidents, there’s nothing you can do to prevent them. To get through this tough time, it may help to understand the grieving process, which typically includes several stages such as denial, guilt, anger and even depression. Allow yourself to experience each phase at your own pace.

You might also feel jealousy at the sight of other pregnant women or mothers and babies, and you could experience setbacks during your recovery from a chemical pregnancy. Keep in mind that it’s very normal for feelings to return and fluctuate.

(Video) What Is A Chemical Pregnancy?

Consider taking some concrete steps as part of your recovery process, including memorializing your baby, finding time for self-care, writing your thoughts in a journal or joining a support group for parents who’ve experienced a similar loss. But if your grief starts to overwhelm or consume your days and prevents you from going about your daily routine, seek help from a counselor or physician.

Also know that just because you had an early miscarriage doesn’t mean that you’ll have another. In fact, although it might sound unfair right now, doctors actually look at a single chemical pregnancy as a positive sign that youcanget pregnant — and hopefully will again soon.

Trying to get pregnant again after a chemical pregnancy

Very early pregnancy losses don’t usually require medical intervention, but you can visit your practitioner if you think you’ve experienced one. They may be able to confirm a chemical pregnancy happened depending on how recently you experienced the bleeding.

Be sure to see your doctor if you’ve noticed that you tend to have anirregular period or a cycle that’s over 35 days long. Your doctor may want to rule outconditions that involveanovulation, like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), that can make it harder for you to get pregnant. They may refer you to a fertility specialist if necessary.

It’s always a good idea to see your doctor if:

  • You and your partner are under 35, have no known fertility issues and have been actively trying to conceive for the past 12 months
  • You’re over the age of 35 and have been trying to conceive for six months
  • You’re over the age of 38 and have been trying to get pregnant for three months
  • You’re over the age of 40 or have a personal or family history of infertility

Going through one or two chemical pregnancies can be heartbreaking, but it’s not a cause for alarm. If a medical condition is contributing to your chemical pregnancies, most can be treated so you can go on to conceive a healthy baby. That means that as soon as you feel ready, you can start trying again.

From the What to Expect editorial team andHeidi Murkoff,author ofWhat to Expect When You're Expecting. What to Expect follows strict reporting guidelines and uses only credible sources, such as peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and highly respected health organizations. Learn how we keep our content accurate and up-to-date by reading ourmedical review and editorial policy.

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(Video) What Is a Chemical Pregnancy?

FAQs

What causes chemical pregnancy? ›

What is the most common reason for a chemical pregnancy? Most miscarriages, including chemical pregnancies, are caused by chromosomal abnormalities that prevent the fetus from developing normally. In assisted pregnancies, damage that occurs to the embryo during the freezing process may result in a chemical pregnancy.

Is a chemical pregnancy still a baby? ›

A chemical pregnancy is a very early miscarriage. It is diagnosed when a pregnancy is confirmed by a blood test or a home pregnancy test, but it can't be seen on an ultrasound scan – usually up until about 5 weeks of pregnancy.

What's the difference between a chemical pregnancy and a miscarriage? ›

Miscarriages can occur at any time during a pregnancy. But they are more common before the 20th week. A chemical pregnancy, on the other hand, always occurs shortly after implantation. Since most often the only symptom is menstrual-like cramping and bleeding, some women assume they're having their menstrual cycle.

How do I know if I'm going to have a chemical pregnancy? ›

Symptoms and Causes

You have a positive pregnancy test and then a negative pregnancy test a few weeks later. Your period is heavier than usual, and you've got more intense menstrual cramps. You have a positive pregnancy test, but you don't notice the usual signs of early pregnancy.

How long will a pregnancy test show positive after a chemical pregnancy? ›

Be assured that it can take a variable amount of time (on average two weeks) for a woman's hCG level to disappear after a miscarriage.

Can stress cause chemical pregnancy? ›

Can too much stress cause early miscarriage? Answer From Yvonne Butler Tobah, M.D. While excessive stress isn't good for your overall health, there's no evidence that stress results in miscarriage.

What does an early miscarriage look like? ›

Bleeding during miscarriage can appear brown and resemble coffee grounds. Or it can be pink to bright red. It can alternate between light and heavy or even stop temporarily before starting up again. If you miscarry before you're eight weeks pregnant, it might look the same as a heavy period.

Does a chemical pregnancy count as a pregnancy? ›

A chemical pregnancy (sometimes called biochemical pregnancy) is a very early pregnancy loss which usually happens just after the embryo implants (before or around 5 weeks).

How long do you bleed after chemical pregnancy? ›

Dr. Rodgers says it might start as spotting and get progressively heavier, and it can last between a few days and up to a week. If the bleeding saturates more than one pad per hour, she advises that you reach out to your health care provider.

How common are chemical pregnancies? ›

Chemical pregnancies are extremely common. In fact, experts actually believe this very early pregnancy loss may account for up to 50 percent of all conceptions. Often, the only sign of a chemical pregnancy is a late period.

Are you more fertile after chemical pregnancy? ›

In fact, women may be more fertile following a chemical pregnancy: A study found that women who tried to get pregnant within three months of a lost pregnancy were 17 percent more likely to conceive and have a live birth than those who waited longer.

What do hCG levels look like in a chemical pregnancy? ›

In a clinical pregnancy, a blood test would show rising hCG levels, while in a chemical pregnancy the hCG levels may not be detectable, or they may be falling. Between 8 and 33 percent of all pregnancies and 18 to 22 percent of all in vitro fertilization (IVF) pregnancies are chemical pregnancies.

Why is my positive pregnancy test fading? ›

Pregnancy test results should get darker early on as a pregnancy progresses. If your pregnancy test results seem to be getting lighter, it could be because you tested after drinking water and your urine was more diluted. Or, the first test result could have been an evaporation line and not a positive result.

Does a faint positive mean chemical pregnancy? ›

A faint line may also indicate what's known as a chemical pregnancy, which is when you are no longer pregnant, but there is still enough beta hCG in your urine for a positive test.

Which sleeping position can cause miscarriage? ›

A 2019 review of medical studies suggests that sleeping on your back carries risks, but it doesn't seem to matter whether you sleep on your right or left side. These studies do have some flaws, though. Third trimester pregnancy loss is very uncommon. Therefore, there aren't many cases from which to draw conclusions.

What increases risk of chemical pregnancy? ›

Any person can experience chemical pregnancy, but a handful of factors may increase your risk. These include maternal age (people over 35 have a greater chance of any type of miscarriage, says Dr. Averbuch), thyroid and blood clotting disorders, and other medical issues.

What are 3 signs symptoms of a miscarriage? ›

Vaginal spotting or bleeding. Pain or cramping in your abdomen or lower back. Fluid or tissue passing from your vagina.

Will a pregnancy test still be positive if I miscarried? ›

It takes time for your hormones to return to their pre-pregnancy levels after a miscarriage. The amount of the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) may still be high enough to trigger a positive result on a pregnancy test for several weeks after a miscarriage.

What happens to your cycle after a chemical pregnancy? ›

Medically, a chemical pregnancy is considered more like a normal cycle in which pregnancy did not occur than a “true” miscarriage. Your next cycle will likely be just like any other cycle, with ovulation at your usual time.

Does hCG rise with chemical pregnancy? ›

Chemical pregnancies are those that typically end in the first few weeks after an initially positive pregnancy test. A woman's hCG levels rise enough to produce a positive test initially, but the pregnancy does not continue, and the levels fall soon after.

How do doctors test for miscarriage? ›

You usually need to have 2 blood tests 48 hours apart to see if your hormone levels go up or down. Sometimes a miscarriage cannot be confirmed immediately using ultrasound or blood testing. If this is the case, you may be advised to have the tests again in 1 or 2 weeks.

Is chemical pregnancy caused by stress? ›

Can too much stress cause early miscarriage? Answer From Yvonne Butler Tobah, M.D. While excessive stress isn't good for your overall health, there's no evidence that stress results in miscarriage.

Can you get a strong positive with a chemical pregnancy? ›

A false-positive pregnancy test (when you get a positive result but aren't actually expecting) can happen for many reasons, including a chemical pregnancy. But it's hard for doctors to say how many false positives are due to chemical pregnancies specifically, Dr.

How common is chemical pregnancy? ›

Chemical pregnancies are extremely common. In fact, experts actually believe this very early pregnancy loss may account for up to 50 percent of all conceptions. Often, the only sign of a chemical pregnancy is a late period.

Do you get a period after a chemical pregnancy? ›

When to expect a period after chemical pregnancy. If you've had a chemical pregnancy, you'll usually have your period 4 to 6 weeks after the loss of the early pregnancy.

How do you prevent a chemical pregnancy from happening? ›

While you can't prevent a chemical pregnancy, there are some known risk factors. Chemical pregnancies are often identified in women who are undergoing IVF. 1 The heightened anticipation of a pregnancy during IVF may lead some couples to test more frequently and earlier than those conceiving naturally.

How long do chemical pregnancies last? ›

A chemical pregnancy (sometimes called biochemical pregnancy) is a very early pregnancy loss which usually happens just after the embryo implants (before or around 5 weeks).

Videos

1. Prevention of Chemical Pregnancy Based on Cause
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2. What is a chemical pregnancy and how to heal after
(OhMyMamaBody)
3. What are chemical pregnancy/what are the causes of chemical pregnancy/how do we prevent it
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4. Early Miscarriage vs Chemical Pregnancy: 3 Things to Know
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5. Implications of Chemical Pregnancies
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