WOMEN'S HEALTH
May 15, 2015

Miscarriage Myths

Do you know what a miscarriage is? Most people don't, and that's a problem.

Miscarriage is one of the most difficult things a family can go through. And the misconceptions about why it happens and how often only make a woman — and her partner — feel more isolated.

Misinformation about miscarriage is amazingly high, even in this age of science and health information, a new study finds. One of the reasons for this is that too many people consider the topic off-limits. Hopefully, dispelling some of the myths about miscarriage will help people who are dealing with it feel less alone.

What was most startling was the number of people who felt that miscarriage was largely preventable and relatively rare, which suggests that many are not very knowledgeable about miscarriage in general.

“Miscarriage is a traditionally taboo subject that is rarely discussed publicly,” study author Zev Williams said in a statement. The researchers wanted to get a clearer picture of what the general public knows — and doesn't know — about miscarriage and its effects.

They questioned almost 1,100 men and women, some of whom had had miscarriages in the past, or whose partners had. The questions involved people's experiences, attitudes, and understanding of the causes of miscarriage.

There were some eye-openers in what people reported.

One of the biggest misconceptions the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center researchers found was about the frequency of miscarriage. Although one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, 55% of respondents believed that they were relatively rare, happening only about 6% of the time.

Additionally, about 25% of respondents thought that lifestyle factors, like smoking or drinking during pregnancy, were the most common causes. But in reality, the most common causes are genetic abnormalities in the fetus, which are responsible for about 60% of miscarriages.

Participants who hadn’t completed college were twice as likely as more educated participants to believe that lifestyle factors are the main cause of miscarriage.

Among the other mistaken beliefs people held were that miscarriage could be caused by a stressful event (76%), long-term stress (74%), lifting heavy objects (64%), and getting into an argument (21%). People also believed that having had a sexually transmitted disease (41%), previous use of an intrauterine device (IUD) (28%), or past use of oral contraceptives (22%) could cause miscarriage.

Less than half the women who miscarried felt they’d received enough emotional support from the medical community.

What was also clear was that miscarriage is a difficult experience for most. Participants who’d had miscarriages, or whose partners had, felt very alone in their experiences. Of these individuals, nearly half felt guilt, loneliness, or that they had done something wrong. Less than half said they'd received enough emotional support from the medical community. Many also felt ashamed.

Some of the participants said that hearing celebrities talk about their own miscarriage made them feel less isolated. And 46% reported that when their friends disclosed their own miscarriages, this also reduced the feelings of isolation.

Finally, many of the participants indicated they would want to know the cause of a miscarriage, even if there was nothing they could do differently in a future pregnancy.

What was perhaps most startling, though, was the number of people who felt that miscarriage was largely preventable and relatively rare, which suggests a great number of people are not very educated about miscarriage in general. This needs to change.

“We need to better educate people about miscarriage, which could help reduce the shame and stigma associated with it,” said Williams. “We want people who experience miscarriage to know that they're not alone — that miscarriages are all too common and that tests are available to help them learn what caused their miscarriage and hopefully to help them in subsequent pregnancies.”

That means providing more support to people who have just experienced this loss, so that they have someone to talk with about it, rather than having to listen to celebrities discussing it. Though that may be helpful, it doesn’t compare to a real person — whether a friend or a counselor — offering support, facts, reassurance, or maybe just a listening ear.

The study is published in the journal, Obstetrics & Gynecology.

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