Miscarriage Widely Misunderstood

An Einstein-Montefiore survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults has found widespread misperceptions about miscarriage and its causes. The findings were published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology
last spring.

Nearly one million miscarriages occur in the United States each year. Miscarriages end one in every four pregnancies and are by far the most common of all pregnancy complications. Yet 55 percent of respondents to the Einstein-Montefiore survey believed that miscarriages are “uncommon” (defined in the survey as less than 6 percent of all pregnancies).

“Miscarriage is a traditionally taboo subject that is rarely discussed publicly,” says S. Zev Williams, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Program for Early and Recurrent Pregnancy Loss (PEARL) at Einstein and Montefiore. “We initiated this survey to assess what the general public knew about miscarriage and its causes and how miscarriage affects them emotionally.” Dr. Williams is also an assistant professor of obstetrics & gynecology and women’s health, and of genetics, at Einstein.

Dr. Williams and his colleagues devised a 33-item survey to assess perceptions of miscarriage; 10 items were specifically directed to men or women reporting a history of miscarriage. Fifteen percent of participants reported that they or their partner had suffered a miscarriage.

Among other significant survey findings:

  • Twenty-two percent of participants incorrectly believed that lifestyle choices during pregnancy (such as smoking or using drugs or alcohol) are the single most common cause of miscarriage, more common than genetic or medical causes. Actually, 60 percent of miscarriages are caused by a genetic problem: abnormal chromosomes.
  • Twenty-eight percent of those suffering a miscarriage reported that celebrities’ disclosure of miscarriage had eased their feelings of isolation, and 46 percent said they felt less alone when friends disclosed their own miscarriages.
  • Participants incorrectly believed that a stressful event (76 percent) or long-standing stress (74 percent) can cause miscarriage. Other incorrectly perceived causes of miscarriage included lifting heavy objects (64 percent) and having had a sexually transmitted disease (41 percent).
  • Of men and women reporting that they or their partner had experienced a miscarriage, 47 percent reported feeling guilty, 41 percent felt they had done something wrong, 41 percent reported feeling alone and 28 percent reported feeling ashamed. Only 45 percent felt they had received adequate emotional support from the medical community.

“Our survey results indicate widespread misconceptions about the prevalence and causes of miscarriage,” says Dr. Williams. “Because miscarriage is very common but rarely discussed, many women and couples feel very isolated and alone after suffering a miscarriage. “We need to better educate people about miscarriage, which could reduce the shame and stigma associated with it.”