One in every four pregnancies ends in miscarriage but most people consider the event uncommon and most don’t know what causes it to happen, according to a recent study. The study revealed widespread misperceptions of the causes of miscarriage and spotlighted the emotional distress associated with miscarriage as well as how badly a woman, and often her partner, would like to discuss their feelings with others.

Dr. Zev Williams led the survey-based study from the Program for Early Recruitment and Pregnancy Loss (PEARL) headquartered at the Yeshiva University Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. Williams and his colleagues used a 33-question online survey that garnered 1,084 valid responses from 49 US states in 2013. The respondents were:

  • 55% women
  • 45% men
  • 15% reported personal experience with miscarriage

The demographics of the study respondents — age, gender, geographical location, household income — were in alignment with national demographics as identified in the 2010 census.

Miscarriage by the Numbers

Miscarriage is diagnosed when a pregnancy is unexpectedly but naturally terminated before the 20th week of pregnancy. It is the most common of all pregnancy complications and 60% of all miscarriages are caused by chromosomal abnormalities that cannot be prevented or corrected. Other causes include abnormalities of the female reproductive tract, hormonal issues, obesity, smoking, and substance abuse. Survey respondents, however, revealed:

  • 55% believe miscarriage is uncommon, occurring in fewer than 6% of all pregnancies in the US.
  • 22% think lifestyle choices during pregnancy (smoking, substance abuse) are the most common cause of miscarriage.
  • 74% thought a stressful event or long-term stress can trigger a miscarriage.
  • 64% thought lifting heavy objects was a cause.
  • 41% attributed miscarriage to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
  • 28% thought previous use of an intrauterine device (IUD) caused them.
  • 22% said oral contraceptives were to blame.
  • 21% thought arguments trigger miscarriage.
  • 36% with no history of miscarriage speculated it would be “extremely upsetting,” as upsetting as losing a child.
  • 88% would want to know what caused it if knowing could help prevent a future miscarriage.
  • 78% would want to know the cause regardless of future pregnancies.

In truth, most miscarriages occur during the first seven weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman even suspects she is pregnant. The miscarriage rate for confirmed pregnancies is approximately 20%.

The Emotional Toll of Miscarriage

Ten of the survey questions specifically addressed female and male respondents who had a personal history with miscarriage. Of this group of respondents:

  • 47% expressed feelings of guilt.
  • 41% felt they’d done something wrong.
  • 41% felt alone, isolated by the event.
  • 28% expressed shame.
  • 28% said learning of the miscarriage of a celebrity helped ease loneliness.
  • 46% felt less alone upon learning of a friend’s miscarriage experience.
  • 45% reported receiving adequate emotional support from their healthcare providers.

Williams summed up the study’s findings by saying, “The results of our survey indicate widespread misconceptions about the prevalence and causes of miscarriage.” He thinks better education of the general public about the realities of miscarriage may “help reduce the shame and stigma associated with it” and may help those who experience it to take comfort in knowing they are not alone.


  1. "Survey Finds Miscarriage Widely Misunderstood." Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Albert Einstein College of Medicine, 11 May 2015. Web. 26 May 2015.
  2. Williams, Zev, et al. "A National Survey on Public Perceptions of Miscarriage." Obstetrics & Gynecology 125.6 (2015): 1313-20. Web. 26 May 2015.
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