Can Falling During Pregnancy Cause a Miscarriage?

While low, risk is largely linked to the stage of pregnancy

Young woman tripping over step
Getty Images/MIXA

It is one of those conventions that you'll frequently see in movies: a woman falls down a flight of stairs, ends up in hospital, but eventually (and usually dramatically) loses her baby. But are situations like this merely a cinematic device, or do miscarriages actually happen this way?

The simple answer is that, yes, trauma can lead to the loss of a pregnancy, but, in terms of actual risk, it depends largely on the stage of pregnancy.

The female body is built to withstand a certain amount of minor trauma when carrying an embryo or fetus. However, there are circumstances and conditions that can increase the likelihood of miscarriage (occurring within the first 20 weeks) or stillbirth (occurring after the first 20 weeks) should injury occur.

Falling During Early Pregnancy

Generally speaking, a fall during the first trimester will not lead to miscarriage. At this stage in the pregnancy, the uterus sits low in the pelvis and is well protected by the mother's pelvic bones. Because of the uterus's position and the size of the fetus itself, falling down stairs or experiencing similar trauma is unlikely to hurt the baby.

Of course, this depends largely on the scale of the accident. If, for instance, the mother is involved in a car accident, there is a risk of placental abruption (where the placental lining is separated from the uterus).

But, even in this instance, the chance of this occurring is pretty slim.

In fact, most studies show that this risk of abruption is only around five percent following a minor accident. Major collisions, by contrast, are associated with a 40 to 50 percent risk due to the velocity and the potential for blunt force impact.

But, even then, miscarriage is more associated with later stage pregnancy than early pregnancy.

Falling Later In Pregnancy

After the first trimester, the uterus will grow larger in size. This alone increases the risk of harm to the baby or damage to the placenta if an injury occurs.

Despite this, the female body is designed to withstand a certain amount of impact. During the second and third trimesters, the baby is largely protected by the pool of amniotic fluid (which absorbs shock) as well as the various membranes, muscles, bones, and fat that bolster the pelvic region.

All of these layers together provide protection should you, in fact, fall. And the chances are that you might. As the belly grows, your center of gravity shifts forward, making it harder for you to stay balanced. It is for this reasons that falls are most common during the third trimester.

Pregnancy hormones, specifically the hormone relaxin, can also make you unsteady on your feet. As per its name, relaxin is produced by the body to relax the ligaments in the pelvis and to soften and widen the cervix in preparation for delivery. By doing so, your joints will be looser, your balance will be uncertain, and your chance of falling will be greater.

But, even if you do, the risk to you baby will still be small. 

What To Do If You Fall During Pregnancy

If you are pregnant and experienced a fall or injury (minor car accidents included), you should call your doctor to assess the likely harm. This is especially true if you are in your second or third trimester.

If, however, you have abdominal or back pain, cramping, dizziness, are experiencing contractions, or have any vaginal discharge or bleeding, call your doctor immediately and go straight to the emergency room.  

And, under no circumstance should you wait if notice decreased fetal movement. In such case, an evaluation will need to be made using an ultrasound, external fetal monitoring (EFM), and other diagnostic and imaging techniques.

A Word From Verywell

Irrespective of statistical risk, every effort should be made to prevent injury to the abdominal region during pregnancy. This means the avoidance of any rigorous activity such as downhill snow skiing, water skiing, off-road cycling, horseback riding, surfing, or gymnastics. Avoid risk where necessary.

Sources:

Murphy, N. and Quinlan, J.. "Trauma in pregnancy: Assessment, management, and prevention." American Family Physician. 2014; 90(10):717-24.

Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. "Guidelines for the Management of a Pregnant Trauma Patient." Ottawa, Ontario; issued June 2015.

Continue Reading