Updated April 2014, next review April 2017

Explaining premature birth - risks and causes

Premature birth FAQs

I've had high blood pressure for a long time. Does this mean I'll get pre-eclampsia?

You may not get pre-eclampsia, but you will be at high risk. If you have chronic high blood pressure or had high blood pressure at your booking-in appointment, you will be monitored very closely, and may be prescribed a low dose of aspirin.

If you know you have problems with high blood pressure, speak to your GP for advice before you get pregnant if possible and try to improve your lifestyle by keeping to a healthy weight and stopping smoking before you conceive.

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How can I tell the difference between normal vaginal discharge and something to worry about?

It is normal to have vaginal discharge, and the amount of discharge does increase during pregnancy. It should be clear or whitish and you will notice an odour, but this should not be very strong or unpleasant.

If you notice any major changes, such as a change in colour or texture, a nasty smell, or if you are itchy or sore down below, talk to your healthcare team as soon as possible.

It may be a mild infection, such as thrush, but it could also indicate a more serious infection. If you have any bleeding, phone your midwife or hospital straight away.

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I had diabetes before I became pregnant - is it only gestational diabetes that affects pregnancy?

No. Women with diabetes of any kind are considered at high risk of serious health problems during pregnancy - for them and their babies.

Just like gestational diabetes, types 1 and 2 diabetes make you more likely to have a very large baby, which is linked to problems in pregnancy, having an induction, caesarean or miscarriage, and having problems with your eyes or kidneys.

You will need special advice on how to look after yourself during pregnancy and will also need to take higher levels of folic acid supplements. If you have type 1 diabetes, you will need to be given testing strips to monitor your blood or urine.

If you do have diabetes outside pregnancy, it is very important to see your GP for advice before you fall pregnant. If you can control your diabetes before pregnancy, this will help minimise problems later on.

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I've heard so much conflicting advice about drinking alcohol during pregnancy - is it really such a big deal?

It is safest not to drink at all in pregnancy. If you drink when you're pregnant, it passes through your placenta to your baby, which means that it does affect your baby.

Drinking above the recommended limit regularly can cause a range of health problems called fetal alcohol syndrome disorders, which can lead to premature delivery and long-term developmental conditions.

Drinking alcohol is also associated with other factors that can increase your risk of premature delivery, such as smoking and poor nutrition. Find out more about lifestyle factors associated with premature birth.

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At my 12-week scan I was told that I could have a low-lying placenta. Should I be worried?

Most women with a low-lying placenta in early pregnancy will not have problems later; in most cases the placenta moves up as the womb grows.

The healthcare team will note the position of the placenta at your 18 to 21-week scan, and if it seems low they will give you a further scan at around 32 weeks to check its position again. In nine out of ten cases it will have moved.

For more information, see our page on placenta praevia

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More information

Read more Q&As about pregnancy and planning a baby.

Remember: Tommy's midwives are happy to answer your questions, no matter how trivial you think they might be!

Find out more about our PregnancyLine service.

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The causes and problems of premature birth

Your premature baby:

You can also read about


Sources

James D, Steer PJ, Weiner CP (2011) High risk pregnancy management options, Elsevier Saunders

Ornoy A, Ergaz Z (2010) Alcohol abuse in pregnant women: effects on the fetus and newborn, mode of action and maternal treatment, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Vol 7, No 2, p364-79

RCOG (2011) A low-lying placenta (placenta praevia) after 20 weeks, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

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