Updated October 2013

Reducing the risk of premature birth

Your risk of premature birth

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

Antenatal tests

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 the 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 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.

You are at risk of premature delivery - Certain test results or events will show the team immediately that you may be at higher risk of premature delivery, for example, if you are a very low weight for your height.

Extra tests if you are at risk

If you are found to be at risk of having a premature baby, you may be offered further tests, such as:

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

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Ultrasound scans and premature birth

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

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

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How the risks 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.

If you are at high risk of premature birth

If you're 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. Click here to read about the kind of treatment you might expect to receive.

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In this section

Reducing the risk of premature birth:

You can also read about

The following organisations can give you more information about the topics covered in this section.


NHS Choices (accessed Sept 2011) Health A-Z, Antenatal screening: checks and tests, http://www.nhs.uk/Planners/pregnancycareplanner/pages/Checksandtests.aspx

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



On this page

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.'