While most pregnancies result in healthy babies, about 10 to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. A miscarriage is the sudden loss of a pregnancy before the 20th week. Most miscarriages occur in the first three months of pregnancy.
Miscarriages, also known as spontaneous abortions, usually occur when the baby doesn’t develop normally inside the womb. The exact causes of miscarriages aren’t well-understood. However, it’s believed that miscarriages may happen when there are problems with the baby’s genes or chromosomes. Certain health conditions in the mother may also cause a miscarriage, including:
- uncontrolled or undiagnosed diabetes
- viral or bacterial infections, including sexually transmitted infections
- hormone problems, such as thyroid or adrenal gland conditions
- lupus and other autoimmune disorders
The loss associated with a miscarriage can be devastating for some people. Even if your pregnancy ended early, you might still feel a strong bond to the baby you lost. Feelings of sadness, anger, and guilt over the loss of the pregnancy are common after a miscarriage.
It’s normal to feel deep sadness and grief after a miscarriage. In some women, these feelings can lead to depression. Depression, also known as major depressive disorder, is a mental illness that causes persistent and intense feelings of sorrow for extended periods. Many people with depression also lose interest in activities they once enjoyed and have difficulty performing daily tasks.
To be diagnosed with depression, you must experience five or more of the following symptoms every day for at least two weeks:
- feeling sad, empty, or hopeless
- being irritable or frustrated
- losing interest or enjoyment in most or all regular activities
- feeling unusually tired and having a lack of energy
- sleeping too little or too much
- eating too little or too much
- feeling anxious, restless, or distressed
- feeling worthless or guilty
- having difficulty focusing, remembering things, and making decisions
- thoughts of death or suicide
- making suicide attempts
- having random aches and pains that don’t go away, even after treatment
Depression after a miscarriage is usually most severe immediately after a pregnancy is lost. In one study, researchers discovered that the rates of depression in women who experienced miscarriages dropped over the course of a year. After a year, women who had a miscarriage experienced rates of depression similar to those of women who didn’t have a miscarriage.
Depression after a miscarriage doesn’t only affect the woman who had the miscarriage. According to researchers, a significant number of men experience depression after their partner has a miscarriage. However, they also found that men tend to recover from depression more quickly than women after a miscarriage.
It can take a long time to recover emotionally from a miscarriage. In cases of depression, both mothers and fathers usually require treatment. Some common treatments for depression include:
- antidepressant medications to help balance chemicals in the brain and alleviate depressive symptoms
- psychotherapy to help you work through your emotions and cope with your grief in a healthy way
- electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which is a procedure that involves applying mild electric currents to your brain and which is used to treat severe cases of depression that don’t respond to medication or psychotherapy
If you have depression, you can see an improvement in symptoms by making sure that you stick to your treatment plan. Eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly can also help increase your energy level and ward off symptoms.
It’s critical for couples to help each other cope with depression after a miscarriage. Men and women may express their grief differently, so it’s important to be respectful of each other’s emotions and ways of coping with the loss. Couples should also focus on communicating clearly and sharing their emotions with one another regularly.
Reading the stories of other couples that have dealt with a miscarriage can also be helpful when finding ways to handle depression after a miscarriage. “I Never Held You: Miscarriage, Grief, Healing and Recovery” and “Empty Arms: Coping With Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Death” are two books that include the stories of couples that have experienced miscarriages and advice on how to cope with the loss. Support groups can also be helpful for couples dealing with depression after a miscarriage. Ask your doctor about support groups in your area or find one online at nationalshare.org.
Most women who’ve had a miscarriage can expect their depression to subside within a year after the miscarriage. Treatment is usually effective in relieving symptoms, and a strong support network can help women get back on their feet. Many women who’ve had a miscarriage also go on to have successful pregnancies later in life. According to the Mayo Clinic, less than 5 percent of women have two miscarriages in a row, and only 1 percent have three or more repeated miscarriages.
There are resources available to help you cope with depression after a miscarriage. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you need it.
How can I support a friend or family member who recently had a miscarriage?
Remember that any loss is a loss. No matter how far along the pregnancy was, it was someone’s child. Never say things to make the person feel like it was no big deal and that she should move on. Instead, listen to her. Let her tell you what happened, how she knew it was a miscarriage, and the fears she may have. Be prepared to talk, but also be prepared to be silent. Be aware of her demeanor. If you feel she is not coping well, talk to her and encourage her to get help because it is normal and she is not alone.Janine Kelbach, RNC-OBAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.