A molar pregnancy is a rare pregnancy complication that in all cases sadly ends in miscarriage. Around one in 1000 pregnant women in the UK will suffer a molar pregnancy, but in Asian-origin women this is doubled, though nobody knows why. You are also more likely to suffer a molar pregnancy if you are 40 or older, if you have a history of molar pregnancies or miscarriages or if you’re not getting enough of a type of vitamin A called beta-carotene.
If you’re TTC and think you could be at risk of having a molar pregnancy, speak to your doctor or midwife; he or she will have the best advice for you.
What is a molar pregnancy?
In a normal pregnancy, genetic material (chromosomes) from the mum and dad – specifically 23 from mum and 23 from dad – combine to form a foetus. But in molar pregnancies there is an imbalance of male and female chromosomes, which leads to an inability to develop a baby.
There are two types of molar pregnancies – complete and partial.
Complete molar pregnancy
In a complete molar pregnancy, mum’s chromosomes are lost; either at conception or while the egg is forming in the ovary. This means that only genetic material from dad begins developing. Complete molar pregnancies develop as a mass of rapidly growing cells without a foetus, therefore a pregnancy cannot happen.
Partial molar pregnancy
In a partial molar pregnancy, there are chromosomes from mum and dad, but dad’s have doubled, so there are too many to establish a normal pregnancy. A foetus might start to develop alongside the molar growth.
Molar pregnancies are usually harmless to mum if treated early, but if untreated the cluster of cells can continue to grow and become invasive; spreading to the organs around your uterus/womb, or even further afield to your lungs, liver or brain. Very rarely – in two to three percent of cases – the cells can become cancerous.
Molar pregnancies can be hard to detect yourself because the symptoms are the same as those often seen in normal pregnancy. These include nausea and vomiting, a swollen stomach and vaginal bleeding. A doctor will be able to see on an early ultrasound scan if you’re having a complete molar pregnancy because a mass of cells without a foetus can be seen. A partial molar pregnancy is a little harder to spot on a scan, but an abnormal non-viable foetus and placenta will be present, so doctors and midwives know what to look out for.
No one knows the exact reason why a molar pregnancy occurs, but there are a number of possible reasons, including defects in the egg and abnormalities in the uterus/womb – neither of which you can control. Another possible cause is nutritional deficiencies, so keep taking your pregnancy supplements.
Once a molar pregnancy is diagnosed, a suction evacuation or a dilatation and curettage will be arranged. This can be extremely distressing, so talking to your partner or family and friends will help you get through this difficult time.
It’s important to be monitored after the termination of your molar pregnancy to make sure your body settles back into its pre-pregnancy state. Your doctor will also monitor you to make sure that if there are any remaining cells, they continue to be benign (non-cancerous).
The good news is that in most cases having a molar pregnancy doesn’t affect your chances of having a healthy pregnancy next time. But be sure to speak to your doctor before you start trying again, as he or she will strongly recommend you wait 12 months. Doctors advise this just to make sure your body is back to its baby-making best.
Coping with loss
Losing a baby at any stage of your pregnancy and for any reason is always difficult. Speaking to your partner and friends and family will help you come to terms with what’s happened and help you get through it. Remember, you can always talk to your doctor or midwife; he or she is there to help with every stage of pregnancy – even this one.