Updated April 2014, next review April 2017
Reducing the risk of premature birth FAQs
Some common questions about the different risks of premature birth and how you can reduce them?
I've had two babies at under 28 weeks - is it really possible that my next baby will go to term?
Having previous premature babies does raise your risk of having another premature birth. However, with the right treatment, many women who have had premature babies in the past do go on to carry them to term. However for some women recurrent preterm birth cannot be prevented.
Everyone's situation is different however. A major factor in assessing your risk this time around will be the reason for your previous premature birth. If there is a known reason, steps can be taken to try to delay it this time around. For example, if it was cervical weakness your healthcare team may give you a cervical stitch, or if it was because you had twins your healthcare team will be able to reassure you that the risk with singleton pregnancies is lower.
No one can give you a definite answer either way, but after considering your personal health and other circumstances, your healthcare team will be able to select the right strategy for your situation, and explain the odds to you.
There are also ways that you can have extra reassurance along the way. The fetal fibronectin test, which examines your cervix for the presence of a substance that the body secretes when labour is to take place, for example, can give a very good indication later on in your pregnancy of whether you are about to go into labour prematurely.
Either way, if you have had premature babies in the past, your pregnancy may be a difficult time emotionally, so make sure you have all the support you need.
Read more about reducing your risks of premature birth
I carried on smoking early in my pregnancy - does this mean I'll have my baby prematurely?
The information we have about what increases the risk of premature birth is statistical. It shows that there are links between certain behaviours (such as smoking) and premature birth. This does not mean that every pregnant woman who smokes will have their baby prematurely.
However, because smoking is linked to so many risks for you and your baby, the experts always advise stopping smoking as soon as you can.
Read more about premature birth and smoking
I'm worried about being overweight. How much weight is it safe to lose while I'm pregnant?
If you are overweight, the advice is to lose weight before you become pregnant but do not diet during pregnancy in case you deprive your growing baby of nutrition. If you are already pregnant and you are worried there are safe ways of managing your weight.
Try to eat healthy, balanced meals, cutting out sugary and fatty foods, and keep as active as you can. This is good advice for all women, whatever their weight. The weight you gain during pregnancy includes the placenta, amniotic fluid and of course the baby, so it differs from one woman to the next.
As long as you are eating healthily and leading a moderately active lifestyle (follow our tips to increase your activity levels), then you should not gain too much weight.
Read more about premature birth and managing your weight
If my waters have broken, will I give birth immediately?
Not necessarily, but if your membranes rupture early and your waters break, you will be at high risk of infection and may go into labour, so you need to be monitored closely. If you think your waters have broken, contact your healthcare team immediately.
Read more about giving birth prematurely
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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.
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Preterm birth - study group statement, London RCOG, 2004. Also available at: http://www.rcog.org.uk/womens-health/clinical-guidance/preterm-birth-study-group-statement (accessed 23 July 2014)
Macdonald S, Magill-Cuerden J, Mayes’ midwifery, fourteenth edition, Edinburgh Bailliere Tindall Elsevier, 2012
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Quitting smoking in pregnancy and following childbirth, public health guideline 26, London NICE, 2010
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Weight management before, during and after pregnancy, public health guideline 27, London NICE, 2010