Does nutrition play a role in preventing miscarriage?

Miscarriage is often a topic that is swept under the rug as it can be a sensitive topic. Due to miscarriages being so prevalent, it is a topic that is important to discuss but I understand for those who may have experienced one (or more), this can be a difficult topic to read about, so please proceed reading with caution.

If you need some resources to help support you. I recommend connecting with Bears of Hope, a not-for-profit organisation focused on pregnancy and infant loss support.

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Miscarriages and pregnancy loss are not the topics everyone is talking about around the water cooler at work; however, it should be. As it is an experience that many women, unfortunately, go through. In fact, 1 in 4 pregnancies, unfortunately, end in miscarriage.

1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage

This is such a high statistic and yet, many men & women remain in silence. I think this may be because women may be feeling a sense of guilt and responsibility in relation to their miscarriage and men feel at a loss as to what they can do to support their partner whilst grieving the loss themselves. There are many factors that could have affected your pregnancy, none of which include YOU being a cause!

Despite how you feel, miscarriage is not your fault

Why do miscarriages happen in the first place?

There are numerous causes for miscarriage, some of which are unexplained. About 50% occur due to a chromosomal (or genetic) abnormality that can occur randomly, but your risk of these occurring does increase with age.

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Image: How Stuff Works

About 50% of miscarriages occur due to chromosomal or genetic abnormalities

Can miscarriages be prevented?

Unfortunately, there are no guaranteed ways to prevent miscarriages, however, there are certainly some things you can do to prevent it from happening.

However, if you are someone that is experiencing recurrent miscarriages, there may be an underlying cause, therefore I would urge you to seek medical advice from a fertility specialist.

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I know you want to do EVERYTHING in your power to prevent your next pregnancy ending the same way, so I have pulled together some of the science behind the lifestyle and nutrition tips you can keep in mind for next time

There is no sure-fire way to prevent a miscarriage, I know you want to do everything you can to give yourself the best chance, and diet is often the first place we turn to

(1) Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, are healthy unsaturated fats that are important in helping maintain a healthy egg and reduce inflammation around your egg.

Try incorporating oily fish twice a week to support baby’s developing brain and eyes, and support your egg health in the lead up to conception, ensure it is well-cooked and does not have high levels of mercury.

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Avoid marlin, swordfish, flake or shark, orange roughy and catfish as they are at risk of containing higher levels of mercury, which is a known toxin and has been linked with increased risk fo miscarriage (Amadi et al., 2017).

Read more about the benefits of omega-3 fats on my blog.

(2) Maintaining a healthy weight

Easier said than done, that’s for sure! But unfortunately, the data shows that women with higher or low body mass indexes (BMIs) are at increased risk of miscarriages, and it appears this may be because of an increased risk of more “disorganised” DNA or genetic material, small changes in BMI do not seem to be something to worry about according to the research (Metwally et al., 2010).

If you are struggling with recurrent miscarriage and your doctor has discussed weight management with you, seek the advice of an Accredited Practising Dietitian that is in the know about fertility and pre-conception nutrition.

(3) Antioxidant-rich Diet

Antioxidants are found in a range of fruits and vegetables and are known to help protect cells (including eggs and sperm) from damage, which can leave the genetic material inside at risk of damage too.

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Aim for 3 different coloured fruits and veggies at your main meals, and look at getting all the colours in across the week, think: red, orange, yellow, blue/purple, green and white!

(4) Key Nutrient: Folic Acid

Folic acid (and folate) are critical nutrients for making genetic material, which is what chromosomes are made of! Now before you say your prenatal supplement is covering your folic acid needs, think again, most leave some room for dietary sources like spinach, kale, green beans, lettuce, lentils, oranges and strawberries just to name a few!

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We have known for many years that folic acid is protective against neural tube defects like spina bifida which is why it has been added to bread flour in Australia to help women get enough in case of an unplanned pregnancy (I know it’s wild to think about when you’re doing timed intercourse and trying so hard for a baby, but it does happen!)

(5) Key Nutrient: Niacin (Vitamin B3)

Niacin or vitamin B3 has been studied in terms of miscarriage, showing that low B3 status increased the risk of birth defects and miscarriage (Shi et al., 2017) and whilst the results seem to not be as critical as folic acid to prevent miscarriage.

It isn’t a bad idea to ensure you are getting enough of this nutrient from sources such as chicken, tuna, beef, sardines, pork and other protein foods provide your best sources of niacin.

(6) Key Nutrient: Choline

Choline is not a vitamin or mineral, but it is emerging as an essential nutrient for supporting your baby’s brain development and supporting the establishment of the placenta during pregnancy.

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Unfortunately, not many prenatal supplements contain choline! So you will need to be getting it from food, 2 eggs will give you 50% of your choline needs, you can also get some from meat & seafood, brussel sprouts, wheat germ, potato, peanut butter and soy products.

(7) Undiagnosed medical conditions

Undiagnosed Coeliac Disease can contribute to infertility and due to the lack of ability to absorb nutrients, it may contribute to unexplained miscarriages when it is not appropriately managed (Martinelli et al., 1999). Ask your doctor about Coeliac screening and ensure you are eating enough gluten to ensure this testing is in fact accurate.

If you have a family history of neural tube defects like spina bifida, or had more than 1 miscarriage you can request testing for the MTHFR gene. Carrying this gene can leads to the sub-optimal conversion of folic acid from supplements and fortified foods into the active form.

You can read more about MTHFR mutations on my blog.

(8) Foods to Avoid: Excess Coffee

Now before you flip out and ditch coffee completely, we are talking about 4 or more cups of coffee per day that has been linked to miscarriage, my recommendation is to limit to 1-2 coffees per day to keep well below this and has not been associated with an increased risk of miscarriage (Gaskins et al., 2018).

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(9) Foods to Avoid: Alcohol

Of course, we know that there is no safe limit for alcohol during pregnancy, it is best to keep alcohol to an absolute minimum, when trying to conceive.

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Scientific research suggests that women drinking 2-3.5 alcoholic drinks per week can increase a woman’s risk of miscarriage in the first trimester (Heertum & Rossi, 2017).

Read more about alcohol when trying to conceive here.

(10) Foods to Avoid: Processed meats, raw meat & seafood, soft cheeses

You often don’t know they’re pregnant until they miss their period or maybe even longer if you’ve got long or irregular periods, which means during those very early days of your baby’s life you could be eating and drinking foods that increase your risk of bacterial infection.

The foods to steer clear of if you think you might be pregnant include:

  • Raw seafood, meat & eggs – just cook these nutritious foods through!
  • Soft serve ice-cream
  • Processed or cold meats such as ham & salami
  • Unpasteurised dairy products and fruit juice including soft cheeses

(11) Foods to Avoid: Foods high in mercury & lead

Avoiding heavy metals like mercury and lead is important as these can be toxic to the body, including the reproductive system. These heavy metals can also cross the placental barrier which establishes in the first 8 weeks of pregnancy. High levels of mercury and lead have both been associated with miscarriage (Amadi, Igweze, Orisakwe, 2017).

I have already covered where mercury can come from primarily in fish above. Lead is generally more environmental in nature, paint in old homes or old children’s toys, cosmetics and some jewellery.

Remember, don’t give up trying for a baby. Just because you have experienced a miscarriage does not mean you are unable to have a healthy pregnancy! The good news is most people who have a miscarriage go on to having a healthy baby!

Get Support: There are a number of organisations that offer specialised support for those who have experienced the loss of a baby, please reach out to Pink Elephants or SANDS. Speak to your health care provider about seeking a mental health care plan to speak to a mental health professional for personalised advice.

Need expert nutrition advice tailored to your needs and fertility journey? Get in touch to find out more about how I can help support you during this difficult time, and ensure all your nutrition boxes are ticked before trying again when you are ready.

This blog was co-written by first year Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics student, Taryn Geller, from the University of Sydney. Connect with Taryn on LinkedIn.

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