When Christopher Blake's wife got pregnant for the first time, the couple didn't read up on anything that could go wrong.
"We were afraid we would 'jinx' the pregnancy," he recalls.
So when his wife had a miscarriage, they felt completely unprepared.
The second time she got pregnant, they did the opposite. They read everything they could find online and ran to the emergency room whenever something didn't feel right.
"Neither of these pendulum swings were healthy for us," says Blake, CEO of First Candle, a group that supports parents who have lost babies to miscarriage or other problems. "We should have had a more commonsense approach."
But good information about miscarriages can be hard to find. Many women and their partners can name at least one myth, rumor, or half-truth they’ve heard about them.
Sometimes even doctors don’t have many answers, says Zev Williams, MD, PhD, director of a pregnancy loss program at Montefiore Health System/Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
That leaves a lot of room for bad information about what exactly is a miscarriage, what can cause them, or even how to feel about them. It’s best to put some myths to rest.
Myth: Miscarriages are rare.
In a national survey of more than 1,000 adults, more than half said they thought miscarriages happened 5% of the time or less. In reality, about 20% of all known pregnancies end in miscarriage. And the number is probably higher, since many happen before a woman even knows she’s pregnant.
Alison Jacobson didn’t know of anyone who’d miscarried until she lost two pregnancies herself and people started sharing their own stories.
"I didn't even know my own mother had a miscarriage," says Jacobson, now the mother of three. "It's the secret people don't want to talk about."
Myth: You did something to cause it.
"The most common thing we hear, and certainly the most false, is that women will link the miscarriage to something they did," says Daniela Carusi, MD, director of surgical obstetrics at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston.
But none of these can make you lose a pregnancy. In fact, Carusi says, "It's extremely hard to cause your own miscarriage."
Real risk factors include older age and certain health conditions like infections, uncontrolled diabetes, thyroid disease, kidney disease, and lupus and other autoimmune disorders. Serious physical injury, like from a major car wreck, can also cause one.
Some studies say large amounts of caffeine can cause miscarriages, but other research says it won’t. Until there’s more data, it’s probably best to limit how much you have. Doctors say it’s safe to have 200 milligrams every day, about the amount in one 12-ounce cup of coffee.
Pregnant women who smoke cigarettes, use illegal drugs (especially cocaine), or drink alcohol can raise their risk for miscarriage, but these aren’t the main reasons women have them.
Most pregnancy losses -- more than 60% -- happen because of severe problems with an unborn baby’s DNA, like an extra or missing chromosome. The problems can run in the parents’ families or be random genetic glitches in the mother’s egg or father’s sperm.
And in many cases, doctors just don’t know what causes them.
Myth: A miscarriage is a sign that you can’t get pregnant.
Nearly 90% of women who miscarry will go on to have normal pregnancies and healthy babies. It may take a few weeks to a month before your body recovers, depending on how long you were pregnant. But most women get their periods again in 4 to 6 weeks.
About 1% of women will have three or more miscarriages. If it happens to you, your doctor will recommend tests to look for a cause. The exams might check for hormone problems, genetic disorders, or other issues.
In rare cases, women who have had a miscarriage or an abortion will have scarring inside their uterus. "This can be a risk factor, but it can be treated," Carusi says.
Myth: You should just get over it.
”I don’t think people understand that a miscarriage is still a death,” Jacobson says. Some women might feel guilt, disappointment, shock, or a sense that they’ve failed their partner.
Even with the best intentions, friends and family may not understand that heartbreak. They might even make things worse with comments like, "It wasn't really a baby," "You'll have another one" or saying nothing at all.
Eileen Beard, senior practice advisor for the American College of Nurse-Midwives, says family and friends often reinforce a common misconception: that you should just get over it.
"If you talk to a woman who's had a miscarriage, whether she's 20 or 80 years old, she will be able to tell you the details of that miscarriage because it had such a profound and often life-changing impact," Beard says.
Not only do you need time to grieve, you also have a right to ask for support.
It helps to talk about it. In one study, about half of people who'd lost a pregnancy said they felt less alone when they talked with friends who had one, too. A support group for couples who’ve had a miscarriage can be another way to share your feelings with people who understand what you’re going through.
The amount of time you take to recover emotionally will also affect your decision about whether you want to get pregnant again. If you plan to try, talk to your doctor and your partner about the right timing for you.