Cut your risk of miscarriage by knowing what to do and what to look out for. By Françoise Gallet.
Miscarriage is the spontaneous loss of a pregnancy before the 20th week of pregnancy. It is a terrible loss, especially if you’ve miscarried before or conceiving was the hard-won result of fertility treatment. Even for those who’ve had previous successful pregnancies, a miscarriage can be painfully shocking.
“In a perfect world, where your pregnancy is planned and you have the foresight to prepare your body for conception, there are a number of things you can do to reduce the risk of miscarriage, ” says gynaecologist and fertility specialist Dr Razak Dhansay.
The reality is that life is full of curve balls and pregnancies are rarely perfectly planned. So, before you start beating yourself up for not doing any of the above, it’s important to know that miscarriages can be idiopathic, meaning that the root cause is unknown.
Nonetheless, the majority of miscarriages occur because of foetal abnormalities.
Here are 7 steps you, your gynaecologist or fertility specialist can take to reduce these risk factors.
1. Screen for viruses
Syphilis, HIV, Hepatitis B and C as well as rubella can live in a woman’s body without her knowledge and cause foetal abnormalities. Screening and treating these diseases can be an important step towards a successful pregnancy.
2. Check your thyroid
Science is yet to figure out the exact mechanisms by which thyroid problems can lead to miscarriage, but abnormal thyroid functioning is, nonetheless, a clearly identified risk factor. “The good news is that effective treatment of any thyroid problems can remove this as a risk factor,” explains Razak.
3. Manage your diabetes
If you are diabetic, it’s important to ensure your condition is well managed. Uncontrolled sugar levels in early pregnancy can play a role in the development of foetal abnormalities.
4. Ditch the drugs, drink and cigarettes
“Recreational drugs, such as marijuana and cocaine, cause breakdowns in the chromosomes of both women and men, which in turn can lead to foetal abnormalities,” cautions Razak. In addition, like cigarette smoke and alcohol, these substances move across the placental barrier and negatively affect the developing the foetus.
5. Watch what you eat
“Avoid foods that run the risk of mercury contamination, such as deep-sea mussels, tuna and raw fish, as this can impact foetal development,” suggests Razak. Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that can affect most animals and, if you’re infected by it in your first trimester, it can cause miscarriage. Lamb, pork and venison are especially likely to be infected and eating any of these meats raw, could mean you unintentionally become host to this nasty. Cat faeces can also contain this parasite, so wash your hands well after gardening or cleaning kitty litter. “Keep liver paté and other foods high in vitamin A off your menu too. The toxic effects of too much vitamin A have been found to affect the developing foetus,” says Razak.
6. Antiphospholipid Syndrome (APS)
“APS is an immune disorder where an abnormality in the blood’s clotting system causes clots to form in your arteries and veins, including the small blood vessels that feed the implantation site or foetus,” explains Razak. You will, in all likelihood, be treated with aspirin in low doses to prevent your platelets from sticking together. You may also be put on heparin to ensure improved blood flow.
7. Screen the swimmers
Miscarriage can come about because of abnormalities with either egg or sperm. Any fertility treatment will also need to consider the health of dad’s sperm.
5 startling statistics about miscarriages:
- According to the Infertility Awareness Association of South Africa 15 – 20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. 75% of these occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
- 55% of adults think that miscarriage is uncommon, according to this study.
- 76% of adults think stress is a common cause of miscarriage. There is little evidence supporting a potential link between stress and miscarriage.
- According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, 1/3 of pregnancies among women age 40 and older end in miscarriage. The majority of miscarriages are caused by chromosomal problems within the embryo, which occur when it receives either too many or too few chromosomes (an embryo with an abnormal number of chromosomes cannot survive). The likelihood of chromosomal abnormalities increases as women get older.
- According to Vitalab statistics show that 15-20% of women experiencing recurrent pregnancy loss have spontaneous abortions or ectopic pregnancies. It also shows that 5% of couples trying to conceive are likely to experience two consecutive miscarriages and that around 1% of couples have three or more consecutive losses or recurring miscarriages.
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