Can lifestyle choices cause miscarriage?

Most miscarriages are not caused by anything you have or have not done. However, there are factors that can increase the risk.

Risks and causes beyond your control

There are some things that increase your risk of miscarriage that are beyond your control. This includes one-off genetic abnormalities, placental problems or problems with the baby, such as spina bifida or heart defects. The risk of miscarriage also increases as both you and the father get older.

Find out more about the causes of miscarriage.

Lifestyle choices that do affect your risk of miscarriage

There is clear evidence that your lifestyle can affect your chance of having a baby, so there are things you can do to try to limit the risk of miscarriage.


Smoking increases the risk of miscarriage, as well as premature birth, low birth weight and stillbirth.

There is some evidence that suggests that men can also increase their partner’s risk of miscarriage by smoking during their partner’s pregnancy or even during the time leading up the pregnancy.

Quitting smoking can be challenging, but there is support available.

Drinking alcohol and using illegal drugs

Using illegal drugs or drinking heavily during pregnancy increases your risk of miscarriage.

There is no amount of alcohol that is considered ‘safe’ to drink during pregnancy, so the Chief Medical Officers for the UK recommend that pregnant women don’t drink any alcohol at all. It can be difficult for some women to avoid alcohol – you might find our tips for an alcohol-free pregnancy helpful.

If you do decide to drink alcohol in pregnancy, try to avoid alcohol completely in the first 3 months. This is when the baby’s brain is developing.

Not managing health conditions properly

Many women with long-term health conditions have healthy pregnancies and babies, but there can be some risks. For example, most women with diabetes have a healthy baby, but if you don’t take care of yourself and your symptoms are not managed properly the risk of miscarriage increases.

The best thing you can do to make sure you and your baby stay well is to talk to your healthcare professional before you start trying for a baby, or as soon as possible if you’re pregnant now.

Not being a healthy weight

Your BMI (body mass index) is a measure that uses your height and weight to work out if your weight is in a healthy range. Having an overweight or underweight BMI before pregnancy can increase the risk of miscarriage.

Find out more about managing your weight during pregnancy.

Not eating well

You can eat most things during pregnancy, but there are some things that you are advised to avoid because there is a small risk that you may get an infection that could increase your risk of miscarriage.

Read more about what foods to avoid in pregnancy.

Consuming too much caffeine

Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, some soft drinks and energy drinks.

High levels of caffeine during pregnancy has been linked to miscarriage and low birth weight. There is also some medical evidence that consuming too much caffeine while you are trying to conceive can also increase the risk of miscarriage. The evidence suggests that this applies to both women and men.

If you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant, you and your partner may find it helpful to get into the habit of limiting your caffeine intake to 200mg a day. This is the same as two mugs of instant coffee a day or one mug of filter coffee.

Use our caffeine calculator to check your daily caffeine intake. 

Myths about the causes of miscarriage

The following things are not linked to an increased risk of miscarriage:

  • stress
  • having sex (unless your doctor has advised you not to)
  • working
  • flying
  • eating spicy food
  • lifting or straining
  • exercising
  • your emotional state, such as being stressed or depressed
  • having a shock or a fright.

What can I do to live a healthier lifestyle in pregnancy?

It’s important to remember that there is nothing you can do that will guarantee that you won’t have a miscarriage. However, we have lots of information about what you can do to reduce the risk and stay as healthy as possible before you try for a baby and during pregnancy.

Finding out the reasons for miscarriage

Our National Centre for Miscarriage Research is dedicated to finding the reasons for miscarriages that are not caused by lifestyle, or chromosomal abnormalities. This animation describes how we are doing it.

Wang, L (2018) Paternal smoking and spontaneous abortion: a population-based retrospective cohort study among non-smoking women aged 20-49 years in rural China. Journal of Epidemiol Community Health. 2018 Sep;72(9):783-789. doi: 10.1136/jech-2017-210311. Epub 2018 Jun 11.

The Royal College of obstetricians and gynaecologists (2018) Alcohol and pregnancy

NHS Choices. Drinking alcohol while pregnant (Page last reviewed: 14/01/2017 Next review due: 14/01/2020)

NICE (2015) Diabetes in pregnancy: management of diabetes and its complications from preconception to the postnatal period, NICE guideline, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (2011) Why your weight matters during pregnancy and after birth

Clinical Knowledge Summaries (Aug 2017) Pre-conception advice and management

National Institutes of Health (2016) Couples pre-pregnancy caffeine consumption linked to miscarriage risk.

Food Standards Agency (2019) Food additives

NHS Choices. Miscarriage. (Page last reviewed: 01/06/2018. Next review due: 01/06/2021)

Review dates
Reviewed: 13 January 2020
Next review: 13 January 2023

This content is currently being reviewed by our team. Updated information will be coming soon.