Are more women losing their babies in late pregnancy?

Are more women losing their babies in late pregnancy?

Sadly, Kelly Brook has lost her baby five months into her pregnancy. The model and actress is not the only celebrity to have suffered the trauma of a late miscarriage in recent months. In February, Britain’s Got Talent judge Amanda Holden, 40, lost a baby two months before she was due to give birth. She had also suffered a miscarriage the previous year. Last November, 25-year-old singer Lily Allen faced the same tragedy six months into her pregnancy. In 2008, she had a miscarriage when she was four months pregnant.

So is the number of miscarriages among British women rising? Or are we simply more aware of the problem because high-profile celebrities have courageously told of their terrible loss? Recent research published in medical journal The Lancet shows Britain has one of the worst records for stillbirth, ranking 33 out of 35 high-income countries. Eleven babies are stillborn every day in Britain.

Losing a baby after 24 weeks of pregnancy - when the baby could survive in an incubator - is classed as a stillbirth. Before that, it is a miscarriage. Every day, 290 British women experience a miscarriage. Professor Lesley Regan, head of the department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at St Mary’s Hospital, London, says there has been an increase in the number of reported miscarriages.

‘This is partly because the issue of miscarriage has become more visible,’ she says. ‘In my mother’s generation, you didn’t talk about that sort of thing. ‘Also, in the past, women often didn’t know they were pregnant early on because you could take a pregnancy test only in hospital. This means many early miscarriages went unnoticed.’

The advent of home pregnancy tests and a more open society have seen a huge rise in the number of reported miscarriages. However, it is also likely that the actual number of miscarriages has increased. This is largely because of the increase in the number of women having babies later in life.

A woman aged 30 has a 12 per cent risk of miscarriage. But in her early 40s, that rises to 41 per cent. Over the age of 45, it shoots up to 75 per cent. ‘Miscarriage rises with maternal age - and more women are having babies later,’ says Prof Regan. ‘Early miscarriages (before 13 weeks) are often down to chromosomal abnormalities in the embryo. They are more likely to be a one-off.’

Late miscarriages can be caused by blood-clotting disorders, anatomical problems with the uterus and cervix, or infections. ‘These are problems we are more likely to be able to do something about,’ says Prof Regan. ‘Late miscarriage is far, far less common. Only one or two per cent of women suffer a late miscarriage, as has happened to Kelly Brook. After 13 weeks, it really is quite unusual. ‘Early miscarriage is common: a quarter to half of all pregnancies are lost. Sadly, the fate of an embryo is often not a happy one.’

Are lifestyle choices a factor for women who miscarry or are they simply the victims of bad luck? Annette Briley, research midwife at Tommy’s — the baby charity that funds medical research into miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth — says some preliminary research has linked stress and miscarriage. ‘But for the vast majority, these disasters are a one-off, bad luck situation,’ she says. It is also known that smoking, obesity and immune conditions such as lupus increase a woman’s chances of losing her baby.

So are more women than ever before losing babies? Ms Briley said: ‘There appears to be a trend of a general increase across Europe, despite widespread improvement in health and living conditions. This is a concern, and we do not know quite why it is. ‘Women can be deeply affected by miscarriage — it is a bereavement, and a particularly painful one because other people haven’t met your baby. ‘Fathers often find it a traumatic time, too, but their suffering is less recognised. ‘I feel really sorry for celebrities who have gone through a terrible personal tragedy and have to deal with it in the public eye.’

Women used to be advised to wait three months after a miscarriage before trying for a baby again; now, they are told to wait until they feel physically and emotionally ready for another pregnancy. Are women in Britain more likely to miscarry? According to Ms Briley, it is difficult to compare statistics. ‘We tend to keep good records and so the figures for Britain look high,’ she says. ‘Whether they are higher than in other developed countries, it is difficult to say. Certainly, there’s a need for further research into why so many women lose babies in this day and age.’

Lisa Hooper, 39, from Margate, Kent, went through the trauma of three late miscarriages before she was referred to the Tommy’s clinic in London. Thanks to expert help, she delivered healthy twin girls Hollie and Ella in 2009. She said: ‘My first miscarriage happened at 17½ weeks when I was at work in 2006.'

Britain's Got Talent judge Amanda Holden lost a baby two months before she was due to give birth Her waters had broken and she was told she would miscarry because nothing could be done. ‘I was an emotional and physical wreck. I found it difficult to come to terms with losing my little girl,’ she said. Doctors could find no reason for the miscarriage. The following year, she lost a little boy in the same way. ‘This time I knew something was wrong. Emotionally, I was beside myself, wondering why this kept happening to me.’

In 2008, she became pregnant again. ‘That time I had a lower vaginal stitch put in at 12 weeks. My husband John and I felt reassured by this, but it didn’t stop me miscarrying yet again at 18½ weeks. 'The only difference was that the stitch had to be taken out, which was really frightening. It was just so awful.’ Her doctor contacted Professor Andy Shennan, Professor of Obstetrics at the Tommy’s funded Maternal and Fetal Research Unit at St Thomas’s Hospital. He used a different type of abdominal stitch for her next pregnancy, and Lisa was overjoyed to give birth to twins.

Sometimes, there simply is no clear reason for a miscarriage and seemingly no end to the pain suffered by a woman who has lost her unborn child or children. One woman who suffered a miscarriage at 11 weeks wrote on an online support forum: ‘I was surprised by just how upset I was. I already had two children, but I had set my heart on having a third to complete our family.’ Happily, she has since given birth to a third child - a son.

‘I needed to find a reason why it had happened and spent hours mulling over potential causes,’ she says. ‘Particularly, I tortured myself about a transatlantic flight I had taken the week before the miscarriage. Could it have caused it? ‘In the end, I realised that the bottom line is that some of these things happen for a reason - my baby might have had a disorder that caused my body to miscarry. ‘Or there might have been no particular reason at all. Sometimes, these things just happen.’ Words that will no doubt come as little comfort to Kelly Brook as she struggles to come to terms with the loss of the baby she wanted so much.

Article: 11th May 2011

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Posted: 11/05/2011 17:21:17


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