First trimester miscarriage: what you need to know

Regardless of the reason (and so often there is none), miscarrying is among the most difficult situations a couple may have to deal with. Also known as spontaneous abortions, the great majority of miscarriages occur in the first trimester, and while healthcare provider have identified certain behaviors and environments that increase a woman’s likelihood of miscarrying, they are often totally random, with no obvious cause.

What is a miscarriage?

A miscarriage is the unplanned loss of a pregnancy in the first 20 weeks - after 20 weeks it is known as stillbirth. However, most miscarriages occur during the first trimester before week 12. Healthcare providers estimate that up to 20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, and a far higher number of all pregnancies (unnoticed by mom, usually miscarried before missed period).

What causes a miscarriage?

Unfortunately, miscarrying is one of those things that is nearly impossible to prevent, even if you do everything right. We often hear that smoking or alcohol or not eating enough of nutrient X causes miscarriages, and though some of this is true, women should understand that most miscarriages are not caused by any bad habits or lifestyles at all - simply bad luck. Here are some common causes of miscarriage:

  • Chromosomal abnormalities: Most miscarriages are the result of chromosomal disorders like aneuploidy, in which the fetus has an abnormal number of chromosomes, and accordingly does not develop properly. Many chromosomal disorders like Trisomies 13 and 18 (three copies of chromosomes 13 or 18, rather than two) make it very difficult to complete the pregnancy, and babies afflicted by these will generally not survive.
  • Infections: Infections like sexually transmitted diseases can often lead to miscarriage if left untreated in a pregnant women. These infections can inflame uterine tissues that make it incredibly difficult for baby to develop.
  • Immune disorders: It is now believed that many cases of seemingly unexplained miscarriage may result from a woman's immune system identifying baby as a foreign threat. These cases are hard to identify, but may eventually prove massively common.
  • Uterine septum: Also known as an abnormal uterus, this condition can make it very difficult for baby to get the sustenance he or she needs, and develop properly.
  • Lifestyle: Lifestyle factors like smoking and using drugs are proven to greatly increase a woman’s chances of miscarrying. Women who are pregnant or trying should avoid using these substances at all costs.

What are some risk factors for miscarriage?

Although miscarriage is possible for all women, certain groups are more likely than others to experience one.

  • Mothers over 35: Women over 35 are more likely to experience a miscarriage, likely due to the increased likelihood of having a fetus with a chromosomal abnormality.
  • Previous miscarriage: Although it is quite rare to miscarry multiple times, particularly consecutively, women with a previous miscarriage may be at an elevated risk of experiencing another.
  • Underlying medical conditions: Women with existing medical conditions like diabetes, thyroid problems, or PCOS are more likely to miscarry during the first trimester.
  • Obesity: Women who seriously struggle with their weight have a higher incidence of miscarriage.

Preventing miscarriage

Regrettably, there is no “miscarriage vaccination” or magic pill that pregnant moms-to-be can take to make sure that they do not miscarry - not even the healthiest woman can guarantee it. However, staying active and abstaining from harmful behaviors like smoking can definitely help increase the likelihood of a happy and healthy pregnancy.

Coping with miscarriage

To be frank, there is no easy way to deal with miscarriage. Even though the fetus is just a few weeks into gestation, it can be an incredibly trying time for a couple. There are lots of local support groups as well as online communities available to women who experience pregnancy loss that can be very helpful in the recovery process.

The most important thing to remember about miscarriage is that except in very, very rare cases, you should be able to conceive again, and bring a healthy baby to term. It’s just a matter of time.

Read more
  • Sir John Dewhurst. Dewhurst's Textbook of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 8th ed. Keith Edmonds. John Wiley and Sons Ltd, 2012. Print.
  • Beth L. Pineles, Edward Park, Jonathan M. Samet. "Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Miscarriage and Maternal Exposure to Tobacco Smoke During Pregnancy." American Journal of Epidemiology. Volume 179, Issue 7. Pp. 807-823. Web. 12/6/2013.
  • Arck, P. C.; Rucke, M.; Rose, M.; Szekeres-Bartho, J.; Douglas, A. J.; Pritsch, M.; Blois, S.; Pincus, M. K.; Barenstrauch, N.; Dudenhausen, J. W.; Nakamura, K.; Sheps, S.; Klapp, B. F. "Early risk factors for miscarriage: a prospective cohort study in pregnant women." Reproductive BioMedicine Online. Vol. 17, No. 1, 07.2008, p. 101-113. Web. 2008.
  • Elise de La Rochebrochard and Patrick Thonneau. "Paternal age and maternal age are risk factors for miscarriage; results of a multicentre European study." Human Reproduction. 17 (6): 1649-1656. Web. 1/1/2002.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. "Micarriage." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, 7/9/2013. Web.
  • "STDs & Pregnancy - CDC Fact Sheet." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7/10/2013. Web.
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