Couples at Greater Risk of Breakup After Pregnancy Loss

April 5, 2010

By Amanda Gardner

MONDAY, April 5, 2010 ( — Ask anyone who’s tried it: Sustaining a marriage or long-term relationship is hard. More than 40% of first marriages and nearly 70% of first live-in relationships fail to reach the 15-year mark, statistics show.

Adding in the trauma of a miscarriage or stillbirth can make it even harder to stay together, a new study suggests. Though it’s true that such tragedies can bring some couples closer together, the experience appears to increase the overall risk of divorce or separation—an effect that can last for years after the pregnancy loss.

Compared to couples who had successful pregnancies, those who had a miscarriage were 22% more likely to break up, and those who experienced a stillbirth were 40% more likely to do so, according to the study, the first and largest of its kind.

Although most couples broke up within one-and-a-half to three years after losing a baby, the increased risk of divorce or separation could still be seen up to a decade after the event, especially in couples who experienced stillbirth.

These findings shouldn’t lead people to “be alarmed and assume that just because someone has had a pregnancy loss, they will also have their relationship dissolved,” says the lead author of the study, Katherine Gold, MD, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan Medical School, in Ann Arbor. “Most couples do very well and often become closer after loss.”

But, she adds, “health-care professionals, society, and friends and family need to be aware that pregnancy loss can have a profound impact on families.”

Losing a pregnancy is fairly common, Dr. Gold and her colleagues note in the study, published this week in the journal Pediatrics. Although just 1% of pregnancies end in stillbirth, roughly 15%—more than 1 in 7—end in miscarriage, which is defined as a pregnancy loss before 20 weeks’ gestation.

“People may be teetering in unstable relationships and this pushes them over the edge,” says Louis Gamino, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the Texas A&M College of Medicine, in Temple, and the co-author of When Your Baby Dies. (Gamino—himself a bereaved parent—was not involved in the current study.)

But Gamino is quick to add that splitting up after a pregnancy loss is hardly a foregone conclusion. “I would like to think we can get stronger,” he says. “I think that can happen.”

Next page: How to cope


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