Sandra Cooper, a former midwife, has great sympathy for Cherie Blair, who

suffered a much-publicised miscarriage two weeks ago.

"People tend to think you'll get over it in a couple of weeks," says Ms Cooper. "They can't relate to the fact it's a baby you've lost - but it is. Even if you're just a few days pregnant, you find yourself walking round rubbing your tummy because you are already developing a relationship with your baby.

"No matter how far into the gestation, it's your baby and, when you have a miscarriage, you grieve for that baby."

Ms Cooper has suffered two miscarriages herself. Following her experiences, both personal and professional, she became involved with the Miscarriage Association, hoping to make things easier for other women in a similar position.

She says: "There are a lot of women out there who don't even think about the possibility of something going wrong. It must be like a bolt out of the blue for them. They don't understand it and, in a lot of cases, they blame themselves, even if they've just been carrying heavy shopping or had a row with their partner.

"Some see it as punishment if they've had an earlier termination. They're just looking for a reason, for someone to blame."

A quarter of all pregnancies in Britain are believed to end in miscarriage - up to 200,000 a year - but relatively little research has been carried out into the causes.

Most occur during the first three months of pregnancy and the vast majority of women never know why they miscarried.

Miscarriages can occur because of foetal defects, such as chromosomal abnormalities or low levels of the hormone progesterone.

Any pregnant woman can miscarry, some have several miscarriages and the risks increase with age. Women who are pregnant at the age of 25-30 have a miscarriage rate of 16 per cent and the figure rises to 25 per cent by 40 years of age.

Peter Bowen-Simpkins, of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, says: "As women get older, the likelihood of a miscarriage gets greater. It is at least 50 per cent by 47 or 48.

"This is largely because of chromosomal abnormalities in eggs produced by women coming to the end of their reproductive life. The body knows the egg will not form a proper baby so rejects it and the woman miscarries."

Ruth Bender Atik, national director of the Miscarriage Association, says when a woman begins to miscarry, she often feels powerless and frightened at what is happening. The association offers much-needed support and information.

"People want to be listened to. They want you to acknowledge what they are going through. It might be grief or it might be anger."

Couples who suffer a miscarriage can often feel very isolated and men in particular can be ignored. "They are less likely to ask for help but it doesn't mean they are any less upset or affected," she says.

And it's not just members of the public who don't always understand the trauma caused by a miscarriage. Some women find their doctor or midwife unsympathetic. Recent research showed that nearly half of women who had experienced a miscarriage did not feel well informed about what was happening to them.

The same study of more than 300 women found nearly four out of five received no after-care, counselling or support.

During her time as chairman of the Miscarriage Association, Ms Cooper introduced training days to educate health professionals about miscarriage.

"In the past, there was a lot of ignorance about miscarriage but I think things have improved a huge amount since I had mine.

"People are a lot more sensitive and they're probably better informed."

The Miscarriage Association helpline is on 01924 200799 or go to