Miscarriages are a taboo topic of discussion, even though around 10 to 15 of every 100 pregnancies end in miscarriage. There are many misconceptions surrounding miscarriages, and, according to Dr. Zev Williams, the director of the Program for Early and Recurrent Pregnancy Loss at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, a large number of people erroneously believe that they are rare or caused by the mother’s actions.
A miscarriage, or early preganancy loss, occurs when a fetus dies before the 20th week, or halfway through a full-term pregnancy. Most miscarriages occur during the first trimester, or before the 12th week, but they are also possible during the second trimester as well. About 1% of women may also experience repeat miscarriages. Repeat miscarriages occur when a woman has two or more miscarriages in a row, although she may still be able to have successful pregnancies later on.
A long-held misconception about miscarriages is that they are uncommon: a study conducted by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University found that 55% of American adults believed that fewer than 6% of pregnancies result in miscarriage. In reality, however, 10 to 15% of pregnancies in the United States end in miscarriages every year, and they may even occur before the mother is aware of the pregnancy.
Many factors can lead to miscarriages, including medical conditions and genetic causes. For example, the fetus may have an irregular number of chromosomes, a condition known as aneuploidy. There could also be problems with placental development, preventing the fetus from receiving the proper nutrients from its mother. If the mother has long-term health conditions — such as diabetes, high blood pressure or kidney disease — there is an increased risk of miscarriage.
In a study from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, however, 22% of participants answered that they believed that lifestyle choices, such as alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy, were the most significant contributor to miscarriages. Other participants cited causes such as stress, lifting heavy objects or getting intrauterine devices — also known as IUDs, a birth control device inserted in the uterus. These misconceptions suggest that miscarriages may be prevented, but no evidence has been found to prove that they can cause infant loss.
According to researchers at Albert Einstein, knowing the true causes of miscarriages is important, as over half of the study participants who experienced a miscarriage said that they felt guilty. Of these respondents, 57% said that they were not given a cause for the miscarriage, prompting them to believe that they played a role in losing their child. Much of this guilt may be attributed to the information gap between public perception and medical fact, since the majority of miscarriages are due to reasons beyond the mother’s control.
Women who experience miscarriages are likely to have sustained negative effects on mental health, including experiencing depressive symptoms. Williams suggests that it is imperative to address the stigma surrounding miscarriages and acknowledge that they are a real component of pregnancy, in order to lessen the isolation that couples may face after losing their child.