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12 Things Science Still Can't Explain About Miscarriages

Know what the ‘M’ word is? Often whispered, it is one of the most misunderstood and least talked about aspects of pregnancy. Miscarriage is a surprisingly common occurrence in pregnancy, and with the power it has been given, you would think that it was a terrible swear word, or something mom is to blame for. Miscarriage is the spontaneous end of a pregnancy in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Here’s the thing, it’s estimated that 30 to 40 percent of all conceptions will end in miscarriage.  In fact, a number of women will miscarry before they even know that they’re pregnant or even seek confirmation via a home pregnancy test or doctor’s appointment. Over 80 percent of miscarriages are said to happen in the first trimester of pregnancy.

A report released in the Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology showed that 22 percent of Americans think that the number one cause of miscarriage is mother’s life choices. We clearly all have a lot to learn about conception and potential complications. There are still many things that even doctors don’t understand. Here are 12 things science still has trouble explaining, as well as public thoughts on miscarriage we need to change to help everyone.

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12 How Long It Takes To Happen

The statistics are staggering on just how common miscarriages are, but TV and movies have us believing that there is a textbook type miscarriage.

Miscarriages do not happen suddenly, and often by the time a mother starts displaying the symptoms associated with a miscarriage, the pregnancy is already over.

This is one of the many things that makes miscarriage so difficult to prevent. Chemical pregnancies are when a miscarriage happens before a woman has even missed her period, and it’s been said that anywhere from fifty to 75 percent of them qualify as chemical pregnancies. Miscarriage can occur anywhere from hours to weeks after a pregnancy is deemed not viable, and even the same woman can display symptoms differently depending on the circumstances.

11 Sometimes, There Are No Symptoms

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One of the many reasons why miscarriage is so common is because many miscarriages happen before mother even knows she’s pregnant. This is sometimes known as a missed or silent miscarriage. When a woman doesn’t experience symptoms that are more commonly considered to be a part of miscarriage, like heavy cramping or bleeding. It’s unlikely you’ll realize that anything has gone wrong.

In fact, someone who has experienced a miscarriage may still display symptoms of pregnancy for some time.

Sometimes the miscarriage may be a result of an embryo that didn’t grow, leaving the pregnancy sac empty. This is called a blighted ovum or an embryonic pregnancy. Some women decide to let their bodies take care of a symptom-free miscarriage after diagnosis, whereas others prefer to look into medication to speed the process, others didn’t know they were pregnant in the first place.

10 How Common Are Recurrent Miscarriages?

Just because someone has had a miscarriage before, it doesn’t necessarily mean this is going to be an ongoing struggle.

Dr. Ruth Lathi is a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford University School of Medicine told Live Science only around five percent of women have what is known as recurrent miscarriages, which is characterized by three or more losses, and in most of these instances, there is a medical cause.

While it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this is happening, causes also vary. It could be symptomatic of a structural problem in the uterus like fibroids, or an abnormal wall. Other factors could be hormonal or age, as genetic errors will increase with a woman’s age and its estimated that as many 80 percent of miscarriages in women 35 and older are a result of genetic errors.

9 The Unidentified Causes

Chromosomal glitches are more likely to happen as you age. When a swimmer and egg connect, each ‘party’ brings 23 chromosomes to create 23 matched pairs, and during this process even a small mismatch will stop the embryo from growing. So researchers say that genetics are the cause of most miscarriages. Another common cause, for about 15 percent of all miscarriages, is unbalanced hormones which can prevent implantation. Other issues that can impact fertility include chronic illness (like lupus, heart disease, or kidney disease), or fibroids which can also impede fertilization (if you suspect fibroids your doctor can have you take special X-rays and determine a treatment plan to increase your odds of conceiving successfully).

8 Why So Many Women Don't Seek Support

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Dr. Zev Williams, Director of the Program for Early and Recurrent Pregnancy Loss says people aren’t embarrassed to talk about other health conditions like heart disease or diabetes, but with miscarriage, it’s a different story. Dr. Williams says, “Miscarriage is often wrongly viewed as a personal failing."

"People tend to blame themselves, and as a result they don't discuss it, so they're left feeling isolated and alone.”

A poll recently revealed that 64 percent surveyed believed that lifting a heavy object can cause a miscarriage, and this just isn’t true. Perhaps one of the many reasons why people don’t seek out support and suffer in silence is because they mistakenly believe they were somehow responsible for the miscarriage.

7 It Can Happen In The Second Trimester, Too

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Most people don’t announce their pregnancy publicly until after the first trimester because they want to be certain their pregnancy is viable.

What many people don’t know is that second trimester miscarriages happen in anywhere from one to five percent of all pregnancies.

One factor many people don’t consider is the emotional toll of a miscarriage, according to The American Psychological Association, “pregnancy hormones can continue to cause emotional turbulence” and many women who have had a miscarriage are at an increased risk for depression and anxiety.

It’s important to keep in mind that every person’s reaction to this traumatic event will be completely different and that there is no right or wrong response to a miscarriage.

6 Are There Preventative Measures?

First fact, despite what many people believe, most miscarriage is not preventable, but there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk.

Dr. Williams suggests the following: taking a prenatal vitamin that includes folic acid, addressing any medical conditions like diabetes or thyroid abnormalities before trying to conceive, looking for family history of blood clots (as these can increase your risk of miscarriage), butt out your smoking and/or alcohol habit, discuss medications you’re taking with your physician to find out if any could be problematic in pregnancy, and remove any unpasteurized products from your diet.

Your diet can help you discover any underlying issues that can increase your chances of miscarriage, or prevent future ones if you both work together.

5 The Emotional Toll It Takes

Keeping your pain to yourself can make recovery even harder. Self-care and knowing when to talk to family and friends, or even a professional are key to coping. Amanda Kern, who is a blogger and photographer, has written extensively about her three miscarriages and says,

“No matter how often a person miscarries, the news is never an easy thing to accept. From the moment a woman sees a plus sign on a pregnancy test, they connect with the baby they have conceived and begin to dream for their baby’s future,”

Thinking that the burden of grief is on the parent who experienced the miscarriage alone is misguided. The other parent may be grieving as well, even though they haven’t experienced the physical side of the loss.

4 Why There's A Stigma

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If someone has a miscarriage, most of the time it’s not a sign that this is going to be an ongoing issue.

The Mayo Clinic says, “Miscarriage is usually a one-time occurrence. Most women who miscarry go on to have healthy pregnancies after a miscarriage.” Barbara Collura is the president and CEO of Resolve (The National Infertility Association) and believes that awareness is key to healing saying, “As with many public health issues, we tend to see real awareness and understanding when people share their personal stories. While this is incredibly difficult to do, it helps normalize it and provides greater compassion and understanding.” Dr. Zhang often talks about life after a miscarriage and emphasizes the importance of people knowing they aren’t alone.

3 The Identifiers

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Most people don’t know this, but it is possible for doctors to identify a miscarriage before symptoms even occur. When someone is early in pregnancy, doctors will administer a blood test that will monitor mom’s level of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), which is a hormone produced in pregnancy. When that number doesn’t double every few days in early pregnancy, or if it’s beginning to drop, this is a warning sign that a miscarriage is imminent.

Since doctors are often unable to confirm a miscarriage during a single appointment they will generally have to monitor the HCG for a few days before making a call on whether the pregnancy is progressing.

Nothing can be done to prevent a miscarriage once it has begun.

2 Getting The ‘Anti-D’ Shot

Know your blood type before you try to conceive. Around 15 percent of people have a blood type that fits within the rhesus negative blood group, which is the blood type A negative, B negative, AB negative, or O negative.

A woman with one of these blood types who has miscarried or has heavy bleeding early in her pregnancy might need something known as an anti-D immunoglobulin injection within 72 hours of her miscarriage. 

This shot is given to prevent a woman with a negative blood type from developing antibodies in her blood stream in case she had conceived a baby with a positive blood type. Women with positive blood groups do not need to worry about their baby’s blood type.

1 The Reasons Behind It

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The American Pregnancy Association has revealed that chromosomal abnormalities are the primary reason for the majority of miscarriages with the most frequent risk factor being advanced age pregnancy. A pregnancy is considered to be advanced aged once a woman is 35 years old because her miscarriage risk is 20 percent, and by the time she’s 40 years old this risk has increased to 40 percent. Other factors include improper implantation of the egg into the uterine lining, trauma (like a car accident or other instance which causes blunt trauma or severe emotional stress), exposure to radiation, smoking or drug use. Dr. John Zhang is the medical director at New Hope Fertility Center and says of the causes of miscarriages,

“these reasons could differ from woman to woman and from pregnancy to pregnancy.

Sources: Kid Spot, Baby Centre, Live Science, What To Expect, Motherly, Very Well Family, Parents, EinsteinJournal of Obstetrics & Gynecology

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