“For too long, miscarriage has been minimised and often dismissed,” say researchers, in a new three-paper report uncovering the devastating impact of pregnancy loss.
The UK doesn’t collect data on the scale, but around 23 million miscarriages occur every year globally, according to The Lancet Series on Miscarriage, which is equivalent to 15% of all pregnancies annually. The figure may be higher, as many people manage miscarriage alone at home due to stigma.
Led by Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research, the new research emphasises how miscarriage can have a longterm psychological impact on both men and women, and how more needs to be done to help those impacted.
An overhaul of miscarriage care is needed
Researchers are calling for a complete overhaul of miscarriage care in the UK, to ensure people like Toni Edwards-Beighton get the help they need.
The mother, 37, from Leicester, was diagnosed with PTSD after a miscarriage. “When it rained, I’d see the water turn blood red as it went through the planter where our baby was buried, my period triggered horrific flashbacks every month, and I ended up breaking down in front of my GP, who diagnosed PTSD,” she recalls.
“My next pregnancy was filled with dread and five years on I still have moments of anxiety, stemming from those three awful weeks going through miscarriage without the care I needed.”
The research highlights how pregnancy loss can affect men, too. James Chaloner, 33, from Cheltenham, was diagnosed with depression after experiencing it and says grief, coupled with the “excessive stress” of recurrent miscarriage, had an “overwhelming impact”.
“I was battling insomnia, night sweats, brain fog, constant nausea and loss of appetite,” he says. “Physically, I was a wreck, and mentally I was completely crushed, but I resisted seeking help because of the stigma.”
Chaloner says he became a recluse, to the point where he didn’t even want to see close family. “Eventually, I plucked up the courage to see a doctor, and was prescribed antidepressants,” he says. “They’re no substitute for talking about grief but they did help to rescue me from a very bleak situation.”
Black women more likely to experience miscarriage
As well as looking at the impact of miscarriage, the research sought to understand more about the causes of it. Although a direct cause could not be identified, researchers did uncover patterns among people most at-risk.
The researchers noted links between age and miscarriage, as well as smoking, higher alcohol intake and persistent stress. These links were already well-established, but the study also uncovered a significant risk to Black women, with 40% higher miscarriage rates in this group than their white counterparts.
Further investigation is needed to understand the reasons for this stark contrast, the researchers said, and Tommy’s researchers are exploring whether it could be related to other health issues that more commonly affect Black women and can complicate pregnancy, like fibroid conditions and autoimmune disorders.
Katie Bonful, 32, from Dartford had two miscarriages in a year before welcoming her son Maximus, thanks to specialist surgery putting a stitch in her cervix to help her body hold onto a baby throughout pregnancy.
“As a Black mother, it’s devastating that so many of us go through this without knowing why,” she says. “I endured very difficult years, battling depression and suicidal thoughts, struggling to understand why my babies kept dying.”
After two losses, being pregnant again was “terrifying,” she adds, but having access to extra scans and special care through Tommy’s helped. “Everyone should be able to get that support if they need it, you shouldn’t have to suffer loss before anyone will help you,” she says.
A ‘postcode lottery’ of care
The research also touched on the postcode lottery surrounding miscarriage support in the UK, as well as inconsistencies in tests and treatments recommended by healthcare providers.
“Couples might be given diverse opinions by different healthcare professionals, which can exacerbate their distress,” the researchers wrote. They’ve set out recommendations outlining care women and their partners should receive after miscarriage, with support available after the first incidence of miscarriage.
Currently, people in some parts of England only qualify for support and care after they’ve had three miscarriages in a row. Tommy’s has launched a petition calling for an end to this and demanding government investment in services.
The Lancet series estimates that miscarriage costs the UK at least £471m a year, when short-term treatments, work absences and a loss of productivity when women return to work is calculated. Tommy’s has called for an end to the “false economy of not investing in miscarriage services” because of this.
The study is the first to highlight the lasting impact of miscarriage on mothers’ long-term physical health, with each loss leaving them more vulnerable to heart disease and blood clots. Miscarriage itself can also increase the chances of another loss in future, with risk rising about 10% each time.
Someone experiencing recurrent miscarriage (defined in the UK as three or more in a row) is four times more likely to lose a baby than someone who has never been through it, the researchers found.
The risk is lowest for women aged 20-29, affecting just 12%, but rises dramatically to 37% by 40 and 65% among over-45s. Older men are also more likely to experience miscarriage regardless of their partner’s age, possibly because genetic abnormalities occur more often in older sperm.
Miscarriage statistics should be ‘routinely collected’
Considering the prevalence of miscarriage and its impact on physical and mental health, the researchers have called for national miscarriage statistics to be routinely collected and published, which the UK already does for other losses such as stillbirth and neonatal death.
“We don’t even know exactly how many miscarriages happen in the UK; without this data, the scale of the problem is hidden, and addressing it is not prioritised,” said study author Arri Coomarasamy, director of Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research and Professor of Gynaecology & Reproductive Medicine at the University of Birmingham.
Tommy’s CEO Jane Brewin added that the “variation in quality and availability” of miscarriage care across the UK can “lead to lifelong problems for families already enduring an unbearable experience”.
“It shouldn’t matter who you are or where you live, and you shouldn’t have to endure repeated heartbreaking losses before you get the right help,” she said. “Everyone should be given care and advice after each miscarriage to reduce the chance of it happening again, with specialist support for those most at risk.”
HuffPost UK contacted the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care regarding the report. In response, minister for women’s health Nadine Dorries said: “Suffering the loss of a child is a tragedy beyond words, which is why we’re urgently working to understand and address the causes of miscarriages, while providing the best support for families.
“We have already funded baby loss charity Sands to reduce variations in the quality of bereavement care, and are also working with the NHS to reduce health inequalities - including in care for new and expectant mothers.”
Useful websites and helplines:
- Sands works to support anyone affected by the death of a baby.
- Tommy’s fund research into miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth, and provide pregnancy health information to parents.
- Saying Goodbye offers support for anyone who has suffered the loss of a baby during pregnancy, at birth or in infancy.