Experiencing a miscarriage can be one of the most distressing and upsetting times in a woman’s life. Firstly, there’s the fact of losing the baby.
The number of weeks rarely matter – it’s the loss of the dreams of the life of the little child you might have named already.
Then there’s the physical distress, and possibly the most difficult aspect of miscarriage – the emotional distress.
Miscarriage is extremely common – around 15 to 18 per cent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. It can be truly devastating, with moms often questioning if it was caused by something they did or didn’t do. But despite what many women believe, being stressed, working too much, having sex or normal exercise during pregnancy is not associated with miscarriage.
Chromosomal abnormalities are the main cause of miscarriages occurring in the first trimester (making up three quarters of all first trimester miscarriages). These abnormalities happen by chance and are not usually related to the mother’s or father’s health.
While factors such as obesity, smoking during pregnancy, drug misuse, drinking excessive amounts of coffee, and drinking more than two standard drinks a week have been cited as risk factors for other pregnancy issues, Associate Professor in Midwifery at Trinity College Dublin, Dr Joan Lalor, says that the evidence that lifestyle factors result in early pregnancy loss is weak. “From an obstetric perspective, obviously you’d advise women to be in the best health pre-conceptually – to stop smoking, to cut down on alcohol. However, the evidence is extremely inconsistent in terms of lifestyle factors and miscarriage.”
Dr Lalor suggests that the most important thing a woman can do before getting pregnant is to be at her best health-wise. “I would say, make sure you’re well and feel well. Start taking folic acid at least 12 weeks before conception. It’s about planning to be in the best possible health that you can be. At the very least, it empowers the woman to feel that she’s doing everything she possibly can for a healthy and successful pregnancy.”
One of the most important risk factors for miscarriage is the age of the mother, with the risk rising from 9 per cent for women under 25, to 25 per cent for women between 35 and 39. This figure jumps to a 51 per cent risk for women aged between 40 and 44, and 75 per cent for women over 45 years of age.
If a miscarriage occurs after 12 weeks, it’s more likely to occur in women with a pre-existing medical condition, and so it’s critical that those who have a known medical condition seek early antenatal care, insists Dr Lalor. The causes of miscarriage at this time are varied, with some due to hormonal imbalance or infection, and others being the result of structural abnormalities in the uterus or cervix.
Some medicines may increase your risk of miscarriage, so if you’re on medication, make sure to mention to your doctor if you’re trying to get pregnant, or if there’s a likelihood you may get pregnant. Some drugs that are linked to miscarriage include: retinoids, methotrexate and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
While it’s easy to get caught up in the whys and hows when it comes to losing a baby through miscarriage, Dr Lalor believes that the greatest thing that needs to be addressed with regards to miscarriage is the distress associated with it. “It’s an extremely distressing time for a woman – she needs to feel that her distress is acknowledged.”
Positivity is key here too, says Dr Lalor, suggesting that if you have experienced a miscarriage, the likelihood is that your next pregnancy will be successful. “Just remember that success rates are much higher than the loss rates,” she adds.
According to the Miscarriage Association of Ireland, of whom all members have experienced miscarriage themselves, one of the most important aspects of recovering from the loss of your baby is to allow yourself and your partner time to grieve.
The Miscarriage Association of Ireland offers a number of supports to women and men who have experienced the loss of a baby through miscarriage, and can be contacted on www.miscarriage.ie
or on 01 8735702.