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Is it true that stress, fright, and other emotional distress can cause a miscarriage?

Extreme stress, yes; a quick "boo!" to scare away the hiccups, no.

Studies have not found any link between the ordinary stresses and frustrations of modern life (like those from a hard day at work or a traffic jam) and miscarriage. Likewise, being startled by by something like a sudden noise (a honking horn, a barking dog, a plate shattering on the floor) does not cause a miscarriage.

Stress is not usually a factor in miscarriage. In fact, most causes of miscarriage are either unknown or beyond your control.

For example, 50 to 70 percent of first-trimester miscarriages are thought to be random events caused by chromosomal abnormalities in the fertilized egg. This usually means that the egg or sperm had the wrong number of chromosomes, so the fertilized egg couldn't develop normally. (Read more about miscarriages and what might cause them.)

That said, high levels of stress – such as that caused by a divorce, severe financial problems, or the death of a close family member – can affect a baby's health during pregnancy. According to a 2008 Danish study of more than 19,000 pregnant women, those with a high level of psychological stress had an 80 percent greater risk of stillbirth than women who had an intermediate level of stress during pregnancy.

Other researchers have found that high stress levels can result in premature birth and low birth weight, and even lead to allergies and asthma later in life. And pregnant women who suffer the extreme psychological stress of being in a war zone are more likely to deliver a child who develops schizophrenia.

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