By Kimberly Beauchamp, ND
Healthnotes Newswire (February 22, 2007)—Certain factors are known to increase miscarriage risk but the importance of many other influences has been less certain. In a study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, new information sheds light on what factors affect the risk of miscarriage.
In order to help pregnant women and healthcare professionals better understand what might contribute to miscarriage risk, a research team from the United Kingdom interviewed over 6,000 women about their pregnancy histories. Some of the results were expected, while others were more surprising.
Factors that decreased miscarriage risk:
• Taking vitamins: Women who took vitamin preparations, particularly those containing iron and folic acid, had a 50% lower chance of miscarrying.
• Eating a healthful diet: Eating fresh fruits and vegetables every day helped decrease miscarriage risk, as did eating dairy products and chocolate.
• Better emotional well-being: Women who described themselves as being happy, relaxed, or in control had a 60% reduced risk of miscarriage.
• Nausea: Women who experienced nausea and morning sickness during their first trimester were almost 70% less likely to have a miscarriage.
• Having had a live birth: Women who previously gave birth to a live baby had a 40% lower chance of miscarriage.
• Feeling well enough to fly or have sex: Both sexual intercourse and air travel during the first trimester were associated with decreased risk of miscarriage.
Factors that increased miscarriage risk in the first trimester:
• Advanced maternal age: Women ages 35 to 39 had a 75% higher risk of miscarriage than did women ages 25 to 29. For women ages 40 and older, the risk was five times what it was in younger women.
• Not married or not living with a partner: The risk of miscarriage in this group was significantly greater than in women who lived with a partner.
• Low prepregnancy weight: While being overweight or obese did not seem to increase the chance of miscarriage, women who were underweight at the time that they became pregnant were at much higher risk of miscarriage than were women of normal weight.
• History of miscarriage: The chances of suffering another miscarriage increased with each pregnancy lost to miscarriage.
• Previous abortion: Women who had a pregnancy terminated had a 60% increased chance of miscarrying in a future pregnancy.
• Delayed conception: Women who took more than one year to become pregnant had two times the risk of miscarriage than did women who conceived within three months of trying to become pregnant.
• Previous infertility treatment: Women who became pregnant using assisted reproduction technology such as artificial or intrauterine insemination had much higher rates of miscarriage.
• Having a stressful or demanding job: Working full time did not seem to increase the risk of miscarriage, but having a stressful job did.
• Feeling anxious, stressed, depressed, or overwhelmed: Women who experienced these emotions frequently during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy were far more likely to have a miscarriage than were those women who described themselves as being happy, relaxed, or in control.
• Regular or high alcohol consumption: Women who drank alcohol on a regular basis during their first trimester of pregnancy had a significantly increased risk of miscarriage.
• Change in father from previous pregnancy: Women who became pregnant by a man different from that of her previous pregnancy were 60% more likely to miscarry than were women who became pregnant by the same man as in her last pregnancy.
Factors not associated with miscarriage risk:
• Caffeine: In contrast to other studies, the study found no association between caffeine intake and miscarriage risk.
• Smoking: The study found no link between smoking during the first trimester of pregnancy and miscarriage risk. As with alcohol, however, smoking should be avoided during pregnancy, as compounds in cigarette smoke cross the placenta and can endanger the health of the baby.
• Prolonged standing or sitting and heavy lifting: Contrary to popular opinion, these activities did not seem to increase miscarriage risk.
What you can do to decrease your miscarriage risk:
“Advice to encourage a healthy diet, reduce stress, and promote emotional well-being might help women in early pregnancy reduce their risk of miscarriage,” the researchers concluded.
While many of the factors that increase miscarriage risk are beyond your control, you can make healthy choices that could help offset them.
1. Eat a nutritionally complete diet before and during your pregnancy. Be sure to include plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, low-fat dairy products, and protein sources such as eggs and lean meats.
2. Take a prenatal multivitamin that contains iron and folic acid.
3. Maintain an ideal body weight and don’t try to restrict calories from healthful food sources during pregnancy.
4. Avoid alcoholic beverages during your pregnancy.
5. Get plenty of rest and make sure to take care of yourself. Try a prenatal yoga class or schedule a couple of massages to help ease tension. Enjoy this time!
(BJOG DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.2006.01193.x)
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.
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