A chemical pregnancy is actually a very early miscarriage, which takes place before anything can be seen on an ultrasound scan – usually around the fifth week that you are pregnant. It means that a sperm has fertilised your egg, but later on, the egg fails to survive.
So why did I get a positive pregnancy test?
“Even this early on in pregnancy there is a change in hormone levels which allows the pregnancy test to turn positive,” explains GP Philippa Kaye. The hormone that your test measures is known as hCG, or human chorionic gonadotrophin.
“In a chemical pregnancy, or very early miscarriage, the test is initially positive but then your period may start, or a further pregnancy test is negative.
“The reason it is termed a chemical pregnancy is that it is only the missed period and positive pregnancy test that show that you are pregnant. It would be too early to see anything on an ultrasound scan.”
Signs and symptoms of a chemical pregnancy
These really vary between women. Some won’t have any symptoms at all. Others may experience:
- A bleed that resembles a period
- Cramping or light spotting before the bleed
One mum on our forum says: “I did a First Response Early Result pregnancy test a few days ago and got a faint positive, but last night I saw a few drops of very pale watery blood on the toilet tissue and this morning I had a little dark brown bleeding not really like my period.” xFran82x
Another mum shares her experience: “On Monday I had three positive results on pregnancy tests. I did one again this morning with first morning urine and had a negative result. I think I’ve had a chemical pregnancy. I had a tiny bit of brownish discharge this morning but nothing else.” sarahhodgkinson
Many women who don’t take a pregnancy test never know that they’ve had an early miscarriage. They simply assume any bleeding is their usual period.
Is chemical pregnancy normal?
Yes, it actually happens in 50 to 60% of first pregnancies, but often goes undetected. Chemical pregnancy, like any miscarriage, stems from a range of causes. Dr Kaye cites possible triggers as “abnormality in the chromosomes (these carry genes) of the fertilised egg, or other reasons such as a clotting problem or hormone level problem.”
But be encouraged: having one chemical pregnancy doesn’t necessarily mean you’re likely to have another.
How do I know if it’s implantation bleeding or a chemical pregnancy?
It can be difficult to distinguish between implantation bleeding and bleeding caused by a chemical pregnancy.
Implantation bleeding (or spotting) is the early bleeding that occurs when the fertilised egg embeds into the uterus lining. “This usually happens around week three of your cycle, a week or so before you expect your period.
“Usually this is extremely light spotting, or light pinkish discharge and is short lived. Many women do not have implantation bleeding” says Dr Kaye.
A chemical pregnancy bleed occurs at a later point in the cycle, around or after the time you would expect your next period to occur. “It is the same as your normal period or even a little bit heavier.”
Always contact a health professional if you are unsure of the cause of your bleeding.
Tell me more about implantation bleeding
When can I get pregnant after a chemical pregnancy?
This is the all-important question for those trying to conceive (TTC) after a chemical pregnancy. “There is no medical reason to wait for any length of time after a chemical pregnancy. If a couple wanted to they could try and conceive again straight away,” says Dr Kaye.
Your fertility is not affected by a chemical pregnancy. “You may ovulate as normal (approximately 14 days before the next expected period), or may find that your next cycle is slightly longer than previously,” she says. Consider the first day of bleeding as the first day of your cycle.
One mum says: “I’ve just got a positive on my ovulation predictor kit only 15 days after a chemical pregnancy. I was convinced it would take my body months to get back to normal.” demii
You don’t need to see your GP to discuss trying for a baby after an early miscarriage unless you are among the small minority that have three or more chemical pregnancies or miscarriages.
If you’ve had a chemical pregnancy, what can you do to try and ensure a successful pregnancy next time?
“The vast majority of chemical pregnancies are caused by problems with the genetic make up of the embryo itself and so cannot be prevented,” says Dr Kaye. “However, stopping smoking, giving up alcohol and any recreational drugs, eating healthily and being at a healthy weight may help – and certainly will help your own health.”
Tell me how to increase my chances of getting pregnant
So should I not take an early pregnancy test?
This can be a tricky decision, especially as some pregnancy tests can now be used as early as four days before your period.
One mum says: “I'm really worried about testing too early and getting all excited if it's positive only to find out a few days later that my period has arrived and it was a chemical pregnancy.” Happy-Mrs-S
Waiting to test until after your period is due can be hard, especially if you are super keen to find out. However, it can mean that your hCG levels are higher and you are more likely to get an accurate result. It also means that you avoid the uncertainty and worry that naturally accompanies a chemical pregnancy.
Tell me more about what a very faint line means on a pregnancy test
Does IVF raise your chance of having a chemical pregnancy?
No, there’s no scientific evidence that women who conceive via IVF have an increased chance of miscarriage, so long as they are using fresh embryos. “Miscarriage rates are slightly higher in patients using frozen embryos,” says Dr Kaye, who also points out that if you're having IVF, you may well do a pregnancy test at the first possible opportunity and so are more likely to pick up a chemical pregnancy.
Older mothers, who more commonly use IVF, are more susceptible to early miscarriage. “Age affects the quality of the eggs produced. Older women are more likely to have a chemical pregnancy or very early miscarriage,” explains Dr Kaye.
Tell me more about getting pregnant as an older mum
Grieving after a chemical pregnancy
Many women find a chemical pregnancy a worrying, confusing experience, and feel a level of grief afterwards. “For many, this represents the loss of a baby, however early in pregnancy,” says Ruth Bender-Atik, National Director of the Miscarriage Association. “Many, but not all, will have a real sense of loss and grief, perhaps for months or even longer. Some will just feel sad and/or disappointed and then move on.”
Find out more from the Miscarriage Association about coping with miscarriage
Our mums' experiences of chemical pregnancies
“I got a phonecall from my GP and he told me that from my blood results he thought I'd had a very early miscarriage, or a chemical pregnancy. He said it was very common.” Lynz_81
“I have had 2 chemical pregnancies in the last 7 cycles. The first one I would have known about even if I hadn't tested early due to the symptoms I experienced very early on combined with the fact that the day after my period was due I was still getting a positive test. Unfortunately 5 days later my period arrived.” Lilylilac
“I had a suspected chemical pregnancy in 2006 but now have 2 beautiful girls. Your time will come too.” Kazzie M
Read our honest and reassuring guide to miscarriage