Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are seen walking together.Share on Pinterest
Mark Cuthbert / Contributor/Getty Images
  • In a new documentary, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle spoke about their experience with miscarriage.
  • Harry says that he thinks stress contributed to Markle’s miscarriage.
  • We spoke to experts about how stress can affect a pregnancy.

In the final episode of their six-part docu-series on Netflix, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle opened up about how the duchess experienced a miscarriage in July 2020.

Around that time, the couple had filed a lawsuit against a tabloid based in the United Kingdom for publishing a personal note Markle had written to her estranged father in 2018.

Harry says he believes the stress Meghan had been experiencing from the lawsuit, and the countless sleepless nights that led to, contributed to the miscarriage.

“Now, do we absolutely know that the miscarriage was caused by that? Of course we don’t. But bearing in mind the stress that that caused, the lack of sleep and the timing of the pregnancy, how many weeks in she was, I can say from what I saw, that miscarriage was created by what they were trying to do to her,” Harry said.

Many studies have linked chronic stress to higher rates of miscarriage, but, it’s unclear how, exactly, stress can increase the risk of pregnancy loss.

Dr. Ashley Wiltshire, a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist and a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist with Columbia University Fertility Center, says the impact of stress on a person’s pregnancy is unique to the individual, as everyone responds to stressors differently.

“Very high levels of stress can lead to concerning symptoms, such as changes in food intake or high blood pressure, which could have a possible negative impact on a pregnancy,” Wiltshire told Healthline.

Miscarriage, or early pregnancy loss, occurs in about 10% of known pregnancies, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Other estimates suggest that number is higher since many pregnancies end before people realize they’re pregnant.

Though there are several things that could increase a woman’s risk of experiencing a miscarriage — including chromosomal abnormalities, maternal age, obesity, and alcohol or cigarette use — stress is believed to be a major contributing factor.

“Feeling some degree of stress during pregnancy can be normal — especially as the body is going through many changes, including hormonal changes which can sometimes impact overall mood,” Wiltshire said.

An analysis published in 2017 found that the risk of miscarriage was significantly higher in women who experienced intense psychological stress.

Studies have identified a two-fold greater risk of miscarriage among women with a history of psychological stress and a higher incidence of miscarriage among people who’ve experienced a major life stressor such as a divorce, death, financial strain, and abuse.

“We think that the type of stress that is most linked to pregnancy loss is chronic stress, from things like trauma, structural racism and iniquities, violence, and poverty,” Dr. Arianna Cassidy, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at University of California, San Francisco, told Healthline.

Although data suggests pregnant people experiencing stress are more likely to have a miscarriage, it’s unclear how stress may directly lead to a miscarriage.

Stress, and its effects, are notoriously difficult to measure.

“It is very hard to study stress and its effect on pregnancy because stress is such a broad concept — anything from having a deadline at work to coping with trauma or having your house burn down — and likewise stress affects us and our behavior in many ways,” Cassidy said.

Research suggests that psychological stress can interfere with many body functions, including metabolic health, immune function, and the vascular system.

Stress hormones, like cortisol, may also have direct effects on the health of the placenta.

Stress may also inhibit the production of progesterone — a hormone that is necessary for a healthy pregnancy. It’s known, for example, that low levels of progesterone are associated with miscarriage.

Much of the research conducted on stress and pregnancy is based on animal models, Cassidy noted.

Stress can affect health in other ways — changing our sleep patterns, altering how we eat, and making us more likely to drink alcohol or use other substances, says Cassidy.

According to Cassidy, the best way to prevent miscarriage is to ensure that your health is as good as it can be — especially if you have an underlying health condition like diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, anxiety, depression, or an autoimmune disease.

Set up an appointment with a midwife, obstetrician, or maternal-fetal medicine specialist when you’re planning for pregnancy if you have any health conditions you’re concerned about.

Relaxation techniques, including prenatal yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises, can alleviate stress, as can healthy eating, regular exercise, and good sleep hygiene.

Pregnant people experiencing chronic stress can benefit from working with a mental health professional.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of talk therapy that helps people productively work through their emotions, has been found to be an effective tool to alleviate stress during pregnancy.

A strong, stable support system can also help combat stress, and, sometimes, simply opening up about your stress levels can help alleviate it, says Cassidy.

Open up to your care team about your concerns regarding your stress levels or look into support groups and community resources that can help with anxiety and depression.

“Once your provider is aware, they can work with you to develop a plan for various supportive self-care activities that may be useful, such as talk therapy, massage, meditation, exercise and more,” Wiltshire said.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry opened up about how the duchess experienced a miscarriage in July 2020. The couple believes that the high levels of stress Meghan had been dealing with contributed to the early pregnancy loss. Though it’s unclear how stress is linked to miscarriage, it’s believed that it messes with many physiological processes that could disrupt the health of a pregnancy.