Leyla Bilali, RN is a registered nurse, fertility nurse, and fertility consultant in the New York City area. She works in house at a reputable private clinic in New York City while also seeing her own clients through her concierge fertility consulting and nursing services business.
Marley Hall is a writer and fact-checker who is certified in clinical and translational research. Her work has been published in medical journals in the field of surgery, and she has received numerous awards for publication in education.
Miscarriage and, less commonly, stillbirth, can occur for several reasons. Your body may recognize that your baby has a chromosomal abnormality or a birth defect, and pregnancy will stop progressing. There may be some structural differences in the uterus or cervix that make it difficult to nourish or carry a baby to term. Or, an unlucky infection might harm the baby's health. Pregnancy loss rarely results from anything you did wrong.
Many people find it helpful to get a handle on possible pregnancy loss causes and risk factors when planning for a family or trying to conceive again. Here, we share miscarriage statistics and the latest research on how to keep your baby as safe as possible. Pregnancy loss is often unavoidable, but understanding why it can happen may provide perspective during a difficult time and support as you move forward.
Often, miscarriages happen because a developing baby has chromosomal abnormalities: too many or too few chromosomes, information in cells that guide growth and development. Sometimes, structural problems with the uterus or cervix or certain infections, like listeria, cause miscarriage or stillbirth (pregnancy loss after 20 weeks gestation). Work, sex, spicy foods, morning sickness, and everyday stress do not cause pregnancy loss.
Most miscarriages happen during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Chemical pregnancies—loss within the first five weeks of gestation—are especially common. Around weeks 6 to 8, when a heartbeat is detected, miscarriage risk drops. Only 1% to 5% of miscarriages happen in the second trimester, between 13 and 19 weeks.
Everyday stress does not cause miscarriage, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. High stress levels can increase blood pressure, which is linked to a higher risk of having a premature or low-birthweight baby, however. The March of Dimes suggests taking steps to reduce stress during pregnancy like prioritizing sleep, cutting back on unnecessary responsibilities, and talking to a mental health provider if you're overwhelmed.
It's not likely. You may worry that skipping meals or vomiting during morning sickness will harm your baby, but people with these symptoms don't have higher rates of miscarriage. However, some research has linked shortages in certain nutrients, particularly folate and vitamin D, to a higher risk of pregnancy loss. Talk to your healthcare provider to make sure you're getting the nutrients you need to help your baby grow healthy and strong.
A positive pregnancy test followed by a negative pregnancy test a week or two later can indicate you've had a miscarriage. This often happens if you test positive very early and then have a chemical pregnancy, which is a miscarriage in the first five weeks of gestation. Pregnancy tests may pick up residual hCG (human chorionic gonadotrophin), the hormone which your body produces when you conceive and stops making when you miscarry.
A faint line may just mean you're newly pregnant since pregnancy tests detect the hormone hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), which your body starts producing when you conceive. Or, it can mean you're very well hydrated since hCG is more detectable in concentrated urine. Later in pregnancy, a faint line can indicate falling levels of hCG and a possible loss, since hCG rates should double quickly through the first 10 weeks.
Stillbirth is when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy. One in 160 pregnancies each year end in stillbirth. Causes aren't always known, but smoking, drug use, obesity, and high blood pressure increase the risk that your baby will be stillborn.
Pregnancy is broken up into three trimesters. The first trimester is week 1 (the time you ovulate and are likely to have conceived) through week 12. The second trimester is weeks 13 to 26. The third trimester is weeks 27 to 40 (or when you give birth).
Sperm quality refers to the amount, shape, and movement of sperm. When a person's sperm is low in number, unusually shaped, or not very mobile, it can be harder to conceive. If you're trying to get pregnant and having trouble, you can have a semen test done at a fertility clinic to see if poor sperm quality might be a factor.
Progesterone is a hormone that rises and falls through your menstrual cycle but remains high once you conceive to support a growing baby. If you've had three or more miscarriages and low levels of the hormone, progesterone supplements may help you get and stay pregnant, according to the Society for Reproductive Medicine.
Fertility is your ability to conceive. You are at a higher risk for fertility troubles if you don't ovulate regularly, are age 35 or older, are very overweight or underweight, smoke, or drink alcohol regularly.
A fetus is the developmental stage of a baby from week 8 of pregnancy until birth. Before that, your developing baby is considered an embryo.
March of Dimes. Miscarriage.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Early pregnancy loss.
Cleveland Clinic. Chemical pregnancy.
Cleveland Clinic. Early signs of miscarriage (and when not to panic).
March of Dimes. Stress and pregnancy.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ACOG practice bulletin no. 189: nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol. 2018;131(1):e15-e30. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000002456
Gaskins AJ, Rich-Edwards JW, Hauser R, et al. Maternal prepregnancy folate intake and risk of spontaneous abortion and stillbirth. Obstet Gynecol. 2014;124(1):23-31. doi:10.1097/AOG.0000000000000343
Mumford SL, Garbose RA, Kim K, et al. Association of preconception serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations with livebirth and pregnancy loss: a prospective cohort study. Lancet Diabet Endocrinol. 2018;6(9):725-732. doi:10.1016/S2213-8587(18)30153-0
March of Dimes. Stillbirth.
American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Optimizing male fertility.
American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Evaluation and treatment of recurrent pregnancy loss: a committee opinion. Fertility and Sterility. 2012;98(5):1103-1111. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2012.06.048
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