When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced in 2015 that they were going to have a baby girl, the couple revealed something else that made even bigger headlines: They had already suffered three miscarriages in their efforts to start a family.
The high-profile announcement was notable because it launched a bigger discussion on an issue that people often keep quiet about. While miscarriage is a common issue that affects more families than most of us would expect, it’s still a topic many people don’t talk about publicly.
Dr. Hyagriv Simhan is the medical director of obstetrical services at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Magee-Womens Hospital. He says miscarriage, typically defined as a loss suffered during the first trimester of pregnancy, happens in about one in four pregnancies.
The National Institutes of Health puts its estimate slightly lower, at 10% to 15% of all pregnancies. But Simhan says the numbers can be difficult to estimate because some women might not realize they’ve suffered a miscarriage.
“It’s most common in the first six weeks (of the pregnancy), and the next four to six weeks are the next most common,” he says.
Simhan says miscarriages often carry a stigma because many women blame themselves for losing a pregnancy. But in most instances, he says, that’s simply not the case. The majority of miscarriages are the result of something totally outside of the parents’ control: A random abnormality in the chromosomes of the developing fetus.
He says it’s important to note that miscarriage is typically not caused by some genetic abnormality carried by the mother or the father. Such defects can contribute to miscarriage, but rarely.
More often than not, it’s the merging of an egg and a sperm in which something in the genetic makeup gets damaged; and that doesn’t mean that a couple can’t successfully have a baby in a subsequent pregnancy.
Talk it out
Other factors can contribute to a miscarriage, including medical conditions such as autoimmune disorders; excessive use of alcohol, tobacco or drugs; or exposure to toxic substances.
Simhan says it’s unusual that an underlying medical problem would contribute to a miscarriage without a woman already being aware of it.
“If a medical condition is serious enough to lead to one, it’s not a silent condition,” he says.
Age can factor into the likelihood of having a miscarriage, too. According to the American Pregnancy Association, women younger than 35 have about a 15% chance of miscarrying, while women between 35 and 45 face a 20% to 35% risk. Women older than 45 have a 50% chance of a lost pregnancy.
Women who have had one miscarriage have about a 25% chance of having another, but that’s only slightly higher than the percentage for all women.
Simhan says it’s important for women to talk to their doctors about their miscarriages or their concerns about having one. He says doctors often won’t be able to provide a reason for the cause of a miscarriage, but can help provide guidance and reassurance for parents-to-be about a difficult topic.
“It’s a huge stressor that can put tension on a relationship and on individuals,” he says