Among U.S. adults, there are widespread misconceptions about the prevalence and causes of miscarriage, according to a new survey conducted by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and Montefiore Health System.
Their findings show that feelings of guilt and shame are common after a miscarriage and that most people mistakenly believe that miscarriages are rare.
“Miscarriage is a traditionally taboo subject that is rarely discussed publicly,” said 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.”
Miscarriages end one in every four pregnancies and are by far the most common of all pregnancy complications, and yet 55 percent of respondents believed that miscarriages are “uncommon” (defined in the survey as less than six percent of all pregnancies).
The researchers designed a 33-item survey to investigate people’s perceptions of miscarriage; 10 items were specifically directed to men or women reporting a history of miscarriage.
The study involved more than 1,000 U.S. adults aged 18 or over. Of the 1,084 valid survey responses collected over a 3-day period in 2013, 45 percent were from men and 55 percent from women. Fifteen percent reported that they or their partner had suffered a miscarriage.
Among other significant survey findings:
- Twenty-two percent of respondents mistakenly 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. In reality, 60 percent of miscarriages are caused by a genetic problem.
- Twenty-eight percent of those suffering a miscarriage reported that celebrities’ disclosure of miscarriage had helped them feel less isolated, and 46 percent said they felt less alone when friends disclosed their own miscarriages.
- 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.
- Thirty-six percent of participants, including those who had never experienced pregnancy loss, reported that suffering a miscarriage would be extremely upsetting, equivalent to losing a child.
“The results of our survey indicate widespread misconceptions about the prevalence and causes of miscarriage. 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 help reduce the shame and stigma associated with it,” said Williams.
“We want people who experience miscarriage to know that they’re not alone — that miscarriages are all too common and that tests are available to help them learn what caused their miscarriage and hopefully to help them in subsequent pregnancies.”
The findings are published online in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.