Living through pregnancy loss
Losing a pregnancy is a deeply personal experience – one we don’t always discuss. It can be devastating both emotionally and physically. And while your body will heal, the emotional impact of the loss can be hard to shake.
For many, the toughest part can be not knowing why it happened or how to move forward. Though you may never learn why your pregnancy didn’t survive, understanding more about pregnancy loss can be the first step toward healing.
How common is pregnancy loss?
On average, a woman becomes aware of her pregnancy between five and six weeks after conception. As many as half of all pregnancies end before a woman even knows she is pregnant, but the longer the pregnancy lasts, the more likely it will succeed. Once a woman knows she is pregnant, there is a 10% to 15% chance that the pregnancy will not survive.
Most people use the word miscarriage to refer to all pregnancy loss, but a loss is classified as miscarriage only if it happens within the first 20 weeks. After that, it’s called stillbirth. Since 80% of pregnancy loss occurs in the first trimester, most women experience a miscarriage when they lose a pregnancy.
What causes miscarriage
In many cases there is no known cause for miscarriage, but experts find that approximately half of early pregnancy losses are caused by genetic or chromosomal problems with the fetus. Those miscarriages tend to occur in the first eight weeks of pregnancy.
Even when the loss comes later in the pregnancy, doctors often don’t know why. Some causes of stillbirth may include problems with the placenta, poor fetal growth and infections. But about half the time, there isn’t an obvious reason.
When pregnancy loss happens more than three times, it’s called recurrent pregnancy loss. At that point, your physician may suggest additional tests to understand the cause.
Risk factors for miscarriage
There are some health conditions and risk factors that may make you more likely to lose a pregnancy. Some risk factors can be avoided or addressed with the help of your physician. Risk factors for pregnancy loss include:
- Autoimmune disorders, such as antiphospholipid syndrome (APS) or lupus
- Chronic conditions, such as congenital heart disease, uncontrolled diabetes, thyroid disorders and severe kidney disease
- Exposure to harmful chemicals, such as paint thinner and other solvents
- Hormone problems, which may cause issues with your ovaries or result in low progesterone levels
- Maternal age, with research showing that for women over the age of 40, more than one-third of pregnancies are lost during the first trimester
- Previous miscarriages, especially having two or more pregnancy losses
- Use of harmful substances, such as alcohol, nicotine or drugs
Coping with a pregnancy loss
Pregnancy loss is different for every woman and couple. Some people may feel guilty or angry, while others may want to quickly put the experience behind them and try again. There is no normal reaction to losing a pregnancy.
No matter how the loss affects you, there are steps you can take to feel better:
- Lean on loved ones: Let others help you, especially if you have other children
- Talk to your partner: It’s okay to let your partner know how you are feeling
- Take care of yourself: Eating right, exercising and getting sleep will help you both physically and mentally
- Find a support group: Your physician can help you find support either online or within your community
- Do something in remembrance: You’ll never forget the baby you lost, but a memorial may help bring you closure
- Seek grief counseling: A therapist can help if your grief does not pass with time
Remember, pregnancy loss does not just affect you. Your partner will also struggle, and you may grieve in different ways. It can be difficult to handle your own emotions while also being aware of your partner’s pain. If the impact of the loss starts to cause relationship conflict, attending marriage or grief counseling as a couple can help.
Pregnancy after miscarriage
After a loss, the idea of getting pregnant again is exciting for some and scary for others. The good news is that most women can have a baby after miscarriage. Only about 1% of women have recurrent miscarriages. Of the women who have recurrent pregnancy loss for unknown causes, 65% go on to have a successful pregnancy.
Most women can ovulate and become pregnant again within two weeks of miscarriage. But before you start trying, make sure you’ve healed both physically and emotionally. Check with your physician to ensure your body is ready for another pregnancy.
If you don’t want another pregnancy right away, be sure to use contraception. Many women find it helpful to wait until one or more menstrual periods have passed to accurately plan for conception.
If you’ve recently suffered from a pregnancy loss or suspect you may be at high risk, reach out to your obstetrician/gynecologist or primary care provider for support and guidance.