What is a miscarriage?
Miscarriages are heart breaking. A miscarriage is classified as a spontaneous loss of a pregnancy before the 20th week. As most people are aware, the most crucial time for pregnancy, and when most miscarriages happen, is within the first trimester or 12-13 weeks. Once a pregnancy reaches the 12 week mark the risk of miscarriage falls dramatically.
How common are miscarriages?
It’s estimated that around 10-20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. However, the actual number is likely higher because many miscarriages occur so early in pregnancy that a woman doesn’t realise she’s pregnant. The rate of miscarriage increases as women get older with over 40% of pregnancies ending in miscarriage for those over 40.
Who is at greater risk of miscarriages?
Various factors increase the risk of miscarriage:
Age: As you get older, especially after age 35, your risk for chromosome problems specifically, and miscarriage in general, increases. Therefore, women older than age 35 have a higher risk of miscarriage than younger women. At age 35, you have about a 20 percent risk. At age 40, the risk is about 40 percent. And at age 45, it’s about 80 percent.
Previous miscarriages. Women who have had two or more consecutive miscarriages are at higher risk of miscarriage.
Chronic conditions. Women who have a chronic condition, such as uncontrolled diabetes, have a higher risk of miscarriage.
Uterine or cervical problems. Certain uterine abnormalities or weak cervical tissues (incompetent cervix) might increase the risk of miscarriage.
Smoking, alcohol and illicit drugs. Women who smoke during pregnancy have a greater risk of miscarriage than do non-smokers. Heavy alcohol use and illicit drug use also increase the risk of miscarriage.
Weight. Being underweight or being overweight has been linked with an increased risk of miscarriage.
Invasive prenatal tests. Some invasive prenatal genetic tests carry a slight risk of miscarriage but you will be informed about this in more detail by your clinic, if you should need these procedures.
As always, if you are trying to conceive you should ask your GP for advice or to discuss any concerns.
What are the causes of miscarriage?
Abnormal genes or chromosomes
Many people worry that a miscarriage has occurred because of something they’ve done, however most miscarriages occur because the foetus isn’t developing normally. About 50 percent of miscarriages are associated with extra or missing chromosomes. Chromosomes contain the genes that determine your baby’s unique traits, such as hair and eye colour. A baby can’t grow normally with the wrong number of chromosomes or with damaged ones.
Most often, chromosome problems result from errors that occur by chance as the embryo divides and grows — not problems inherited from the parents. There’s no way to prevent chromosome problems from happening. Many women experience this type of miscarriage and go on to have a healthy, uneventful pregnancy.
Maternal health conditions
In a few cases, a mother’s health condition might lead to miscarriage. Examples include:
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Hormonal problems
- High blood pressure
- Problems with your uterus or cervix, such as: fibroids; an abnormally shaped uterus; or a cervix that opens and widens too early, called incompetent cervix
- Thyroid disease
Although most miscarriages are due to factors outside of your control, there are some things you can do to ensure a healthy pregnancy. Here are some lifestyle habits that are dangerous for a developing baby that you should address:
- Smoking. Some studies show an increased risk of miscarriage even if only the father smokes.
- Heavy drinking
- Using illegal drugs
In addition to second hand smoke, certain substances in your environment at home or at work may also put your pregnancy at risk for miscarriage. These include:
- Solvents such as paint thinners and stain and varnish removers
- Pesticides for killing insects or rodents
Be sure to talk with your doctor about any concerns you have about your environment, either at work or at home.
What does NOT cause miscarriage
Routine activities such as these don’t provoke a miscarriage:
- Exercise, including high-intensity activities such as jogging and cycling.
- Sexual intercourse.
- Working, provided you’re not exposed to harmful chemicals or radiation. Talk with your doctor if you are concerned about work-related risks.
It is important to be aware that you can do everything “right” and still have a miscarriage. Try not to add guilt or self-blame to your emotional burden. Between working with your doctor and making healthy lifestyle changes, you can rest easy knowing you’ve done everything you possibly could within your power and control to have a healthy pregnancy.
Can I reduce the risk of miscarriage?
As mentioned above, there are many reasons a miscarriage may take place are not your fault and are outside of your control. However, there are definitely some lifestyle factors we can adopt to ensure we have done everything possible within our control to support our pregnancy.
There are no quick and easy fixes, you need a healthy lifestyle. Ditch the junk food and cigarettes, swap the sofa for a walk or a zumba class and reduce stress in any way you can. A healthy lifestyle before and during pregnancy helps to support your body and prepare for pregnancy. As with any approach to trying to decrease the chance of miscarriage there are no guarantees, but these steps will help to nourish and support the body, inviting a healthy pregnancy to occur.
- Exercise regularly.
- Take folic acid.
- Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
- Get a healthy amount of sleep.
- Manage stress.
- Keep your weight within normal limits.
- Don’t smoke and stay away from second hand smoke. This includes vaping and e-cigarettes.
- Don’t drink alcohol or have more than one to two cups of a caffeinated beverage like coffee a day.
- Avoid illicit drugs.
- Make sure you are up to date on vaccinations.
- Reduce the amount of refined sugar you consume.
- Get on top of underlying health conditions e.g. diabetes, high blood pressure and thyroid disorders
- Seek medical advice before taking any over the counter medications e.g. ibruprofen.
Supplements and vitamins: prenatal multivitamins and an omega-3 supplement can be helpful, however don’t just take any multivitamin. Be careful when you are choosing which one to take as not all supplements are created equal. The most helpful vitamins are B6, B12 and folic acid (folate). This combination has been shown to help prevent miscarriages due to high homocysteine levels. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting a course of supplements and get their advice, especially if you are taking other medications or have had previous miscarriages.
Again, there are no guarantees here that the above will stop a miscarriage from happening, given that most miscarriages occur due to the abnormal chromosomes, which can’t be prevented. But these are the things within your control that you can do to make yourself as healthy as possible to support your journey.
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