It’s estimated that amongst women who know that they’re pregnant, 1 in 8 pregnancies will end in miscarriage - although many more happen before a woman is aware she is pregnant. Although it’s more common in the first trimester, with around 80% of miscarriages happening in this stage of pregnancy, it can also sometimes happen later on in pregnancy. But the risk is lowered in the second trimester to between 1 and 5 in 100 pregnancies.
Can you prevent a miscarriage?
If you have ever experienced a miscarriage, it’s easy to be overcome by the worry that maybe it could have been prevented, or that it could have been caused by something you did differently, or “wrong”. But most miscarriages aren’t preventable and are due to reasons that are out of our control. They usually happen due to a genetic abnormality in the fetus, which means the pregnancy wouldn’t have been able to develop full-term.
It’s understandable that once you know you’re pregnant, you want to feel like you’re doing everything you can to encourage a healthy pregnancy. And that’s great! Even though most miscarriages are caused by genetic abnormality or medical reasons, not all are. You may be able to increase your chances of a healthy pregnancy by adopting a healthy lifestyle before and after you get pregnant.
Although your body does a great job of protecting your baby in early pregnancy, whether that’s from an external injury like falling down, or not getting the right vitamins and nutrients from the get-go - there are some general guidelines that it’s recommended pregnant women, or women trying to get pregnant, follow.
Tips to encourage a healthy pregnancy
Here are some of the best tips you can follow to encourage a healthy, full-term pregnancy.
Get treatment for underlying health conditions
If you know about health conditions you have, or have had that might put you at higher risk of miscarriage, speak to your doctor or health provider and get treatment. If you’ve had treatment for one of these conditions and you do become pregnant, let your doctor and midwife know so you can get the right care for your pregnancy.
This may mean that you need to have extra tests, scans or appointments with your midwife or obstetrician to make sure everything is progressing as it should be.
Take folic acid or folate supplements
If you’re planning to get pregnant it’s recommended to take at least 400mg of folic acid every day for around 2-3 months before conception if possible. If you weren’t able to do this, don’t worry. You can start taking it as soon as you find out about your pregnancy. Folic acid helps form the neural tube and can also help prevent some birth defects.
Many supplements available for pregnant women from the pharmacy contain the recommended amount of folic acid, as well as other beneficial vitamins. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for the ones they recommend. Some supplements may make you feel a little nauseous so make sure you take them with food.
Beginning good eating habits before you get pregnant can help make sure you’re a healthy weight and that your body is in good condition for pregnancy.
Eating a healthy balanced diet can be hard or almost impossible if you’re experiencing morning sickness - so don’t worry if this is the case - as long as you’re keeping your pre-natal vitamins down. When you’re not feeling sick, or when sickness subsides later in the pregnancy, this is the time to plan healthier meals and snacks,
Although you may not be able keep up with same fitness or exercise routines as you did before pregnancy, you can still keep fit with gentle exercise like going for regular walks every day, or pregnancy yoga classes.
The amount of exercise you do may depend on what your body was used to before pregnancy and how fit you already are. So, it’s good to take your midwife’s and doctor’s advice on a personalised regime you can try to stick to once you get pregnant.
Although gentle exercise is good, avoid anything that carries a higher risk of injury to your abdomen, such as contact sports. Abdominal crunches should also be avoided.
Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or take drugs
Smoking or taking drugs can be harmful to a growing fetus. If you’re having trouble giving up smoking and are, or want to get pregnant, speak with your doctor about finding support to quit. Studies also show that alcohol consumption can have a negative impact on a growing fetus, so it’s recommended that you cut out alcohol completely whilst you’re pregnant.
Cut down on caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant found in foods, drinks, chocolate and some medication. Some studies have shown that consuming larger amounts of caffeine may cause miscarriage, but confusingly others say it doesn’t. It’s recommended that until more is known it’s best to limit the amount you consume to no more than 200 milligrams a day. This is about one regular cup of coffee.
Avoid certain foods, and don’t reheat foods
When you’re pregnant it’s important to avoid foods that have a higher risk of giving you food poisoning as when you’re pregnant, hormones make you especially vunerable to the effects of bacterial infection. This can be anything from uncooked, processed meats like salami or unpasturised cheese to unwashed fruits and vegetables. You can find a list of foods to avoid on the NHS website, here.
Also, it’s recommended not to eat reheated food, especially takeaways. Freshly prepared foods are always best - just in case!
Take extra care to avoid viruses and infectious diseases (including Sexually Transmitted Diseases or STDs)
When you’re pregnant, your immune system is normally a little weaker than usual. This can mean you can catch colds or flu more easily. Although most viral infections are unlikely to harm your baby, catching certain viral or bacterial infections and diseases might as it’s possible for them to cross the placenta. This can cause problems with a pregnancy that leads to fetal defects, miscarriage or premature birth.
Avoid environmental hazards such as radiation (eg X-rays)
Radiation can also have an effect on an unborn baby so although dental x-rays are thought to be fine, most dentists will prefer to wait until after you’ve had the baby if at all possible.
If you’re especially worried about miscarriage, speak with your health provider, doctor or midwife. They will be able to talk to you about any particular risk factors and tailor advice to your pregnancy.