Understanding the psychological impact of miscarriage

Tommy’s researchers would like to know why some women and birthing people suffer from severe mental health problems after having a miscarriage and want to find out how best to help them.
  • Authors list

    Professor Tom Bourne, Professor Phillip Bennett, Professor Arri Coomarasamy, Dr Adam Devall, Professor Siobhan Quenby

    Start date: 2021    
    End date: 2026

Why do we need this research?

Miscarriages are traumatic; there is no way around it. Sometimes though, grief can turn into something very severe. Occasionally, miscarriage can lead to problems with mental health such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A recent study suggests that 1 in 3 women have symptoms of PTSD one month after a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy and 1 in 4 have symptoms of moderate or severe anxiety. At nine months, these numbers drop to around 1 in 5.

We want to understand why some parents are affected by these severe reactions, while others aren’t. Even more, we want to know how to help them.

What’s happening in this project?

Our researchers want to identity cost-effective treatment options that can be used to reduce the emotional suffering that some women and birthing people experience following a miscarriage. To do this, they are conducting a randomised controlled trial to find out whether intrusive memories can be reduced by carrying out a brief visual task shortly after miscarriage, and if this leads to a reduction in symptoms of PTSD, anxiety and depression. The team also hope to carry out a separate study that will test whether cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – delivered online by a therapist – can reduce the symptoms of PTSD, depression and anxiety among women who have had a miscarriage.

Our researchers are also looking into the psychological impact of molar pregnancies on women and their partners, including whether there are any particular risk factors that can be used to predict who might be most severely affected. A molar pregnancy is a very rare complication of pregnancy that occurs when a fetus doesn’t form properly in the womb. There are often no symptoms, meaning that the molar pregnancy may only be diagnosed during a routine ultrasound scan at 8–14 weeks, or during tests that are carried out after a miscarriage. Surgery is usually required, and some women and birthing people may also need chemotherapy to completely remove the molar pregnancy tissue. Our researchers think that women and birthing people who have had a molar pregnancy may be even more psychologically vulnerable than other people experiencing miscarriage, in part because of the prolonged treatment and follow-up required, and the necessary delay in trying to get pregnant again. The team are carrying out a large study to find out more.

What difference will this project make?

As well as increasing our understanding of the psychological impact of molar pregnancy, this research should give us a better idea of how to reduce the psychological anguish that some women and birthing people experience following a miscarriage. 

If you have experienced a miscarriage and need to talk to someone, please call our free helpline on 0800 014 7800 between 9-5, Monday to Friday, or find more information about miscarriage here.

Thanks for your interest in our research

Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for pregnancy complications and loss. Maternal and fetal research is underfunded and we need your support to continue. There are many small and large ways you can support us, find out more here.