Miscarriage: What happens and where to find support

Around one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage but the subject is still seen as taboo. (Getty Images)
Around one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage but the subject is still seen as taboo. (Getty Images)

Around one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage during the first three months, according to the Miscarriage Association. After three months, the risk drops significantly.

But despite miscarriage being so common, more still needs to be done to open up the conversation and ensure women and their partners get the support they may need afterwards to come to terms with their loss.

Whether the miscarriage happens in the early stages of pregnancy or later on, the potential impact on the woman (and her partner's) mental health shouldn't be underestimated.

The number of celebrities and those in the public eye talking about their personal experiences of miscarriage is going some way towards helping raise awareness.

Read more: MP emotional during paid miscarriage leave plea: ‘Forgive me if I take a minute'

For example, Meghan Markle opened up in 2020 about a miscarriage she experienced in July that year. Writing in The New York Times, the Duchess of Sussex described how she felt a “sharp cramp” that made her “drop to the floor” with her then one-year-old son Archie in her arms.

As Meghan and Prince Harry endured “the pain of their loss”, it dawned on them “in a room of 100 women, 10 to 20 of them will have suffered from miscarriage”, yet “the conversation remains taboo, riddled with (unwarranted) shame".

Others who have since spoken out about miscarriage and the personal toll it has taken on them include Myleene Klass, Jessie J, Charlotte Dawson, Jodi Albert and others.

Here, experts explain why miscarriages happen, the potential emotional impact and the support available.

Close up of woman doctor touch patient show care and empathy telling bad results news, supportive female GP or physician cheer comfort upset clients at consultation in hospital, healthcare concept
Anyone who can conceive can miscarry – and often the cause is unknown. (Getty Images)

Why do miscarriages happen?

Miscarriage is when a baby (or fetus or embryo) dies in the uterus during pregnancy. According to the Miscarriage Association in the UK, that definition applies to pregnancies up to 23 weeks and 6 days, and any loss from 24 weeks is called a stillbirth.

If the baby is born alive, even before 24 weeks, and lives even for a matter of minutes, that is considered a live birth and a neonatal death.

Most miscarriages happen before a person even knows they are pregnant, according to the NHS. Among those who know they are expecting, around one in eight pregnancies end in miscarriage.

Losing three or more pregnancies in a row, defined as recurrent miscarriages, is far less common and affects around one in 100 people.

Read more: Charlotte Dawson shares devastating miscarriage: 'I'm heartbroken beyond words'

Lots of different factors are thought to contribute to a miscarriage, but in many cases the cause is not identified, which can make the loss even more difficult to process.

Watch: Jennifer Lawrence reveals she has suffered two miscarriages

Some women can't help but somehow blame themselves when it happens, worried that work stress, for instance, or having one alcoholic drink may have somehow played a part, but it's important to note that in the vast majority of cases, the miscarriage is completely unrelated to the expectant mother's lifestyle.

“The most asked question about miscarriage is, ‘Why did it happen?’,” says Dr Matthew Prior from Dr Fertility.

“The honest answer is we don’t know. Most miscarriages are likely due to a randomly occurring genetic problem which is not compatible with life.”

Read more: How to support a friend who has had a miscarriage

Abnormal chromosomes are often to blame, with a baby being unable to develop if it has too many or not enough. Chromosomes contain tightly-packaged bundles of a person’s DNA.

More reassuringly, miscarriages tend to be a one-off event, with the majority of women going on to have a healthy pregnancy.

“Certain medical conditions have an increased risk of miscarriage, such as thyroid disease, diabetes and obesity,” added Dr Prior.

“Female age is the strongest predictor of miscarriage and the risk increases faster for women in their forties.”

Not smoking, drinking alcohol or using illicit drugs while pregnant does help to reduce the risk.

Sad couple hugging.
Partners can experience post-traumatic stress disorder after their other half has miscarried. (Getty Images)

How you may feel after a miscarriage

Going through miscarriage can be very distressing, with many women experiencing guilt, shock or even anger.

“During a miscarriage, women’s physical and emotional experiences vary greatly,” said Dr Prior.

“Symptoms usually include pain and bleeding. These can be distressing, but often the emotional aspect of miscarriage outweighs the physical symptoms.”

But, of course, it is not just the person carrying the baby who feels the impact.

Research by Imperial College London found that one in 12 (8%) of partners experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) three months after their other half goes through a miscarriage, while one in 25 are still experiencing symptoms nine months on.

PTSD symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia and anger outbursts.

“Baby loss can have a deep and lasting impact on both parents, and this [Imperial] study gives a voice to many who have suffered in silence, highlighting the profound consequences that can have for their mental health and wellbeing,” says Jane Brewin, chief executive of the baby loss charity Tommy’s.

“The message is clear; partners are vulnerable to the same psychological problems as mothers and specialist support must be made available to either or both bereaved parents.”

There is support for those suffering the emotional impacts of a miscarriage. (Getty Images)
There is support for those suffering the emotional impacts of a miscarriage. (Getty Images)

Where to find support

For Meghan Markle, as she was holding Prince Harry's hand in hospital, she felt, “the only way to begin to heal is to first ask, ‘Are you OK?’"

Fertility nurse consultant Kate Davies, also from Dr Fertility, agrees, adding: “Opening up conversations around baby loss and not being fearful to talk, is what we need to foster more of.

“Only by creating a safe environment for women and men to share their stories, and ultimately their grief, will we ever get rid of the taboo that surrounds baby loss”.

If you've experienced pregnancy loss, support is available from hospital counselling services.

Numerous charities also have helplines offering support:

Some people also like to have a memorial for the baby they lost, like The Miscarriage Association’s stars of remembrance.