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What Americans get wrong about miscarriages
A new study shines some light on the common misconceptions Americans have about the frequency and causes of miscarriages. - photo by JJ Feinauer
Despite the fact that 15 to 20 percent of clinically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage, Americans remain largely in the dark as to why and how often they happen, according to a new study by The American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists.

According to the researchers, miscarriages remain misunderstood because of folklore and the fact that many who experience pregnancy loss shy away from discussing their experiences.

The survey found that 55 percent of respondents erroneously believe that less than 6 percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. In reality, 15 to 20 percent do. Men, the survey found, are the most ignorant on this point.

The study defines miscarriage in typical medical terms: "A pregnancy loss occurring earlier than 20 weeks of gestation."

To gauge America's understanding of miscarriages, the researchers gathered responses from 1,084 men and women (45 percent of the respondents were men, 55 percent were women) about their knowledge on the subject. They used a 33-item questionnaire that was hosted on's crowdsourcesing service Mechanical Turk to gather the results.

While the majority of those surveyed were correct in their belief that "genetic or medical problems" are the leading cause of miscarriage, a substantial amount believe, incorrectly, that "a stressful event" and "long-standing stress" are also contributors.

That stress is a leading cause of miscarriage is, as the researchers indicated earlier, a folk belief with little to no medical support. Though there are plenty of explanations that circulate on the Internet as to why stress may be a factor, according to the researchers, such beliefs can cause those who have miscarried to have "a false sense of responsibility" which will likely "contribute to the widespread sense of guilt felt after a miscarriage."

"These beliefs are likely compounded when no cause for the patients miscarriage is identified," the researchers added.

Other points of error in the public's thinking, according to the ACOG study, include the fact that 22 percent of those who responded thought "lifestyle choices" was the biggest contributing factor in miscarriage. Other miscarriage cause myths with wide acceptance include "lifting heavy objects," a history of using oral contraceptives and STDs.

The other major finding from the study which likely stems directly from some of the misguided beliefs in what causes miscarriage is that there is widespread guilt associated with the loss of a fetus, even though the vast majority of cases are not preventable.

According to the survey (which had a section of questions specifically for those who have experienced a miscarriage), 47 percent of those who miscarried felt guilty about it. Slightly less than that (41 percent) felt the miscarriage occurred because they did something wrong.

But as the study shows, the vast majority of miscarriages occur because of genetic abnormalities of the fetus and could not have reasonably been prevented by the behavior of either the mother or the father. So why do so many feel guilty?

One major reason, according to the study, is because 57 percent of those who miscarry remain in the dark as to why they lost their baby, which is probably also why only 45 percent of respondents said they felt adequately comforted by the medical community at the time of their loss.

To help combat this, the researchers argued for more openness.

"Our data could encourage friends and public figures to share their losses," the researchers said at the conclusion of the study, "and use their stature to help combat feelings of shame, secrecy and isolation."
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