Updated October 2013

Reducing the risk of premature birth

Am I at risk of premature birth?

The tests and checks you're offered during pregnancy will help the healthcare team work out if you are at risk of giving birth prematurely.

Antenatal tests to find out if you are a risk

At each antenatal appointment you'll be given certain routine tests, which - along with information you provide about your medical history and lifestyle - will keep the team informed about you and your baby's health and progress.

What your medical history, lifestyle factors and routine tests could reveal:

Everything's fine - If the results show that your pregnancy is progressing normally, you can relax until your next appointment.

There are symptoms that need further monitoring or testing - For example, if you have high blood pressure, this may not in itself be a problem, but the team will need to make sure it is not linked to pre-eclampsia which could increase your risk of giving birth prematurely.

You are at risk of premature delivery - Some test results or events will show the team immediately that you may be at higher risk of premature delivery because of problems with your general health, your womb, or your baby. If you are at risk of giving birth prematurely you will have to be monitored more closely during your pregnancy.

Read more about routine antenatal tests and why they are done.

Extra tests if you are at risk of premature birth

If you are found to be at risk of having a premature baby, you may be offered extra tests that will help the midwife and doctors spot potential problems and decide a care plan for your pregnancy. These could be:

  • blood tests
  • urine samples
  • vaginal swabs
  • ultrasounds scans.

These tests can reveal if you have an infection, diabetes, or a chronic medical condition for example kidney disorder. In some cases these can cause premature birth so it is important that you are monitored and that you receive the right treatment.

Ultrasound scans can reveal a range of factors that have been linked to premature delivery. These include:

If the results reveal any potential problems, the healthcare team can take action as quickly as possible.

Read more about the causes of premature birth.

How the risks of premature birth add up

The healthcare team will combine all the results of your tests and checks with the factors highlighted in our section on explaining premature birth, such as your previous pregnancies, plus any other medical conditions or lifestyle factors, to assess your overall risk.

Read more on what you can do to reduce your risk of giving birth early.

If you are at high risk of premature birth

If you are told that you are at risk of having your baby prematurely, you will start to have regular monitoring and contact with the healthcare team - often including a specialist. The kind of care you get will depend on the reason why you are considered high risk. As far as possible, the medical team will aim to delay the birth to enable your baby to develop as much as possible inside the womb.

Read more about the kind of treatment you might expect to receive to reduce your risk of giving birth early.


Sources
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Antenatal care: routine care for the healthy pregnant woman, London NICE, 2008

Macdonald S, Magill-Cuerden J, Mayes’ midwifery, fourteenth edition, Edinburgh Bailliere Tindall Elsevier, 2012

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Pre-term labour and birth: draft scope, London NICE, 2014


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Reducing the risk of premature birth:

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Antenatal care

Extra tests if you are at risk

How the risks add up

What happens if you are at risk



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Feedback on health information

'My first baby had died and after that I'd had three miscarriages, but I just kept going. When I got pregnant again, the doctors took it very seriously. They put me on heparin and aspirin and did weekly swabs to test for infection, and it worked - I made it to 12 weeks. Then they stitched my cervix closed, and in the end I had a baby boy at 35 weeks.'

ELLA