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 right support 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.

Celebrities opening up about miscarriage

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

Rachel Weisz recently revealed she experienced a miscarriage in the past, while discussing the negative reaction to scenes of baby loss on her new series Dead Ringers (on Prime Video).

“I was just telling this story about the female experience and it didn’t seem to have been like heightened or overdramatised," she said on The News Agents podcast.

“Women had miscarriages, I’ve had a miscarriage, so you suddenly see blood coming out of your body and these are just all part of a female experience of being alive.”

Read more: Myleene Klass praises fiancé for having vasectomy to 'give her body a break' after birth and four miscarriages

Meghan Markle also opened up in 2020 about a miscarriage she experienced, while Myleene Klass, Jessie J, Charlotte Dawson, Jodi Albert have spoken out about baby loss and the personal toll it has taken on them.

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 foetus or embryo) dies in the uterus during pregnancy. According to the Miscarriage Association, that definition applies to pregnancies up to 23 weeks and 6 days, and any loss from 24 weeks onwards 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, the figure goes down to one in eight pregnancies ending 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.

“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.”

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

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

Risk factors for miscarriage

Dr Prior says certain medical conditions are associated with an increased risk of miscarriage including:

  • thyroid disease, diabetes and obesity

  • female age is another predictor of miscarriage, with the risk increasing 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 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, 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.

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

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.