Health: true or false?

Can stress or heavy lifting increase a woman’s risk of miscarrying?

It’s a common belief in Asia that emotional stress affects a woman’s unborn child and lifting heavy objects weakens the body, but the facts suggest that neither directly puts a pregnancy in danger

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 May, 2017, 7:02pm
UPDATED : Monday, 08 May, 2017, 5:47pm

Can a stressful event or lifting heavy objects increase a pregnant woman’s chance of miscarrying?

The straight answer: No

The facts: If you’ve ever been pregnant, you may have been advised by well-meaning friends and relatives to avoid events that are emotionally stressful, taxing or upsetting. They may also have suggested you not move or carry anything heavy, so as to minimise your risk of losing your pregnancy.

It’s a common belief, especially in Asian communities, that anything that causes severe emotional stress can somehow depress your system and affect your unborn child, and that lifting heavy objects can weaken your body, putting your pregnancy in danger.

Fortunately, neither belief is true, says Dr Zara Chan, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology at OT&P Healthcare’s woman and child clinic in Central.

Women with highly stressful lifestyles do miscarry at a higher rate because they tend to have unhealthy habits
Zara Chan

“There is no census data available on miscarriages in Hong Kong but, like other developed countries, I would say that the rate of miscarriage here is about one in 10, which is not particularly high,” Chan says, adding that losing a baby any time before 24 weeks is what is considered a miscarriage.

“Miscarriages are not known to be due to a single emotionally stressful factor or event per se,” she continues. “However, women with highly stressful lifestyles do miscarry at a higher rate because they tend to have unhealthy habits, such as smoking, alcohol abuse and so on. These lifestyle factors are known to increase one’s chances of a miscarriage.”

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As for suffering a miscarriage as a result of lifting something heavy, Chan says that, at the very worst, you may experience back pain or injure your back muscles. It therefore makes sense to avoid such activities altogether if possible, if only for your own safety, health and comfort during a time when such things are of the utmost importance.

The causes of miscarriages are actually far more complicated. Among the most common problems that can increase a woman’s risk of losing her baby are:

• Chromosomal abnormalities, which account for the majority of failed pregnancies;

• Uterine abnormalities, which either prevent the embryo from implanting or make it difficult for the embryo to survive after it has implanted;

• A weakened cervix, which makes supporting a foetus difficult, if not impossible;

• Polycystic ovary syndrome, which causes hormonal imbalances that can affect the proper development of the endometrial lining;

• Underlying immunologic disorders, such as lupus and antiphospholipid antibody syndrome;

• Infections, such as bacterial vaginosis, rubella, chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis.

Miscarriage: separate myth from reality

Chan suggests that if you are pregnant (or considering becoming pregnant) and want to minimise your risk of a miscarriage, see your doctor and get the appropriate tests done to assess your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and carrying your baby to term.

It is also important to live a healthy lifestyle. This, Chan says, includes getting enough sleep every night; quitting smoking; eliminating alcohol from your diet; taking folic acid supplements (which have been shown to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida and have also been linked to fewer miscarriages); and engaging in light exercise a few times a week.