Miscarriage is inextricably linked to stress, worry, and miscarriage. Understanding the interplay of these three is critical for women who are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant. While it is impossible to eliminate all stress and worry associated with pregnancy, there are ways to mitigate the effects and protect your physical and emotional health.
This article will explain the connection between stress, worry, and miscarriage, as well as offer advice on how to reduce the risk of miscarriage and manage stress and worry during pregnancy. You can ensure that your pregnancy is as healthy and stress-free as possible by understanding the connection between these topics.
What is the Link Between Stress, Worry and Miscarriage?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates that between 15% and 20% of known pregnancies will end in miscarriage. Nonetheless, it may be comforting to know that once a heartbeat is detected on an ultrasound, typically around week six or seven, the risk of miscarriage drops to less than 5% for women of any age, according to Michael Lu, M.D., associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
About 15-25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. Overall, women who are between the ages of 20-44 have a 20-30% chance of experiencing a miscarriage in their lifetime. Miscarriage is usually caused by chromosomal abnormalities in the fetus, or by a problem with the immune system or reproductive organs of the pregnant person. The vast majority of miscarriages happen because the fetus doesn’t have the biological make-up needed to continue developing. So, keep in mind that four of the common causes of miscarriage include:
- Genetic factors - A genetic abnormality accounts for up to 70% of first-trimester miscarriages and 20% of second-trimester miscarriages.
- Certain health conditions - Miscarriage can occur due to a lack of blood flow to the uterus, which can be caused by a number of medical issues. Diabetes, thyroid illness, lupus, and heart disease are all chronic disorders that are linked to a greater chance of miscarriage.
- Excessive caffeine - A 2008 study indicated that women who drank at least 200 mg of caffeine daily (equivalent to around two cups of ordinary coffee or five 12-ounce cans of caffeinated soda) had double the miscarriage risk as those who drank none.
- Drug and alcohol use - A miscarriage can occur if the pregnant woman uses tobacco, alcohol, illegal drugs, or misuses or abuses prescription medications. Smoke usage increases the chance of stillbirth by 1.8–2.8 times, marijuana use by 2.3 times, stimulants or prescription drug use by 2.2 times, and passive exposure to tobacco increases the risk of miscarriage by 2.1 times.
To return to our initial question, can emotional strain like that caused by worry and anxiety lead to a miscarriage?
Put simply, no. However, you must continue reading to learn that stress and anxiety may be connected to miscarriage.
Stress, worry and anxiety on their own cannot cause a miscarriage. Meaning, normal, day-to-day sources of stress and anxiety, such as job pressures or concerns about what labor would be like, have not been associated to miscarriage. There is also no evidence that having recurring bad mood leads to miscarriage.
Many moms-to-be are often advised to “take it easy” when dealing with work and family problems. It’s a popular belief that stress is a big factor that causes miscarriage. However, several studies have found an increased incidence of miscarriage among women who report high levels of mental or physical distress in the early months of pregnancy or just before conception, lending credence to the long-held belief that stress may play a role in causing miscarriages.
Scientists from Tufts University and Greece have discovered what they believe to be a chain reaction that explains how stress hormones and other chemicals damage the uterus and the developing embryo. Scientists have known for a long time that the brain releases a variety of hormones in response to stress, including a hormone called corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). High amounts of CRH have been identified in the blood of women who give birth prematurely or to kids with low birth weight, and other studies show that women who report experiencing stress are more likely to miscarry. The placenta and the uterus create CRH in preparation for labor and delivery, and the brain secretes this hormone in response to physical or mental stress.
CRH and other stress hormones may be secreted in other parts of the body as well, where they target localized mast cells, the type of cell most commonly associated with allergic reactions. The uterus has a high concentration of mast cells. Miscarriages can be caused by chemicals secreted by these mast cells, which are triggered under stressful situations by the local release of CRH.
So, “normal” stress and anxiety won’t harm your baby. However, when under extreme stress or anxiety, this is when things get serious. This refers to major life events, such as the loss of a loved one. Miscarriage risk can also be increased if a pregnant woman smokes, drinks, or uses drugs as a coping mechanism.
Physical and Emotional Symptoms of Stress and Worry During Pregnancy
Stress and worry during pregnancy can have a wide variety of physical and emotional symptoms. Some of these symptoms can overlap with the symptoms of preeclampsia, a serious complication of pregnancy that causes high blood pressure and affects up to 8% of pregnant women. Preeclampsia is a medical emergency that requires prompt medical attention.
If you are experiencing many of the following symptoms, it is a good idea to see a doctor, as they may be signs of stress and worry during pregnancy.
Physical symptoms of stress and worry during pregnancy include:
- Headaches and vision problems
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath, especially when exercising and/or when climbing stairs
- Swollen hands and/or feet
- Pain in the back or abdomen
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Feeling dizzy and/or lightheaded
- Feeling irritable, anxious, and/or depressed
- Increased sensitivity to noise, lights, and/-or smells
Emotional symptoms of stress and worry during pregnancy include:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling worried about finances and/or the future
- Feeling worried about your health and/or your baby
- Experiencing feelings of guilt
- Feeling depressed
- Feeling anxious
- Experiencing feelings of helplessness
- Having frequent thoughts about death or dying
- Experiencing feelings of being unable to cope
Strategies for Managing Stress and Worry During Pregnancy
While it is impossible to eliminate stress and worry from pregnancy completely, there are certain strategies you can use to reduce the harmful effects of these two powerful emotions. Here are some tips for managing stress and worry during pregnancy.
- Practice mindfulness and meditation
- Engage in daily self-care
- Limit alcohol intake
- Stay hydrated
- Connect with loved ones
- Set boundaries with family and friends
- Ask for help
- Prioritize your health above everything else
- Practice stress reduction techniques
- Practice gratitude
- Avoid unnecessary stress and worry
- Keep a journal
- Seek professional help when necessary
- Plan for the future
Self-Care Practices to Reduce Stress and Worry During Pregnancy
A healthy and balanced lifestyle can dramatically reduce the harmful effects of stress and worry during pregnancy. To reduce the risk of miscarriage, it is important to reduce your overall stress and worry level, but it is just as important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The following self-care practices can dramatically reduce the risk of miscarriage:
- Eat a balanced diet
- Limit caffeine
- Get plenty of rest
- Practice self-compassion
- Avoid stressful self-talk
- Identify and avoid negative relationships and/or situations
- Cultivate positive relationships
When to Seek Professional Help for Stress and Worry During Pregnancy
Stress and worry are natural and unavoidable emotions during pregnancy. However, if your stress level is significantly above what’s considered normal, it is important to seek professional help to alleviate extreme stress.
Warning signs that you may need professional help include:
- Your stress level does not decrease over time
- You are unable to reduce your stress level
- Your stress level is negatively impacting your daily life
- You are experiencing symptoms of anxiety and/or depression
- You feel overwhelmed by daily life/routine
- You are experiencing heart palpitations or chest pain
- You are experiencing extreme mood swings
Hormonal imbalances or difficulties with the uterus or placenta can cause a miscarriage, but these causes are much less common than random chromosomal or genetic abnormalities in the fetus.
A mother has no say in any of these things. When a woman suffers a loss, she will naturally look for reasons, even if they cause her to place the blame on herself. However, it is important for all women to understand that a miscarriage is typically unavoidable and has no discernible cause.
Moms who decide to try again in the future will probably get pregnant and have a healthy baby. Having said that, it is always wise to consult a medical professional who can help map out the next steps if you have any worries, have suffered two or more consecutive losses, or if you are over the age of 35.