Research into premature birth

Around 60,000 babies are born prematurely each year in the UK. These babies are vulnerable – they are born before they have grown to cope with the outside world. Tommy’s is saving lives by researching how we can prevent premature births by finding those at risk early on.

Find a premature birth research project

Premature or preterm birth is when a baby is born before 37 full weeks of pregnancy. Globally, more than 1 in 10 pregnancies end in premature birth – around 15 million babies every year.

Research is vital so that we can understand which women are likely to go into labour early, and help them carry their baby for as long as possible. Tommy’s support cutting-edge work on the causes and prevention of premature birth through our centres in both London and Edinburgh. Clinics at both centres care for mums at risk of preterm birth.

Recent highlights

  • Researchers have found that levels of a protein called elafin could be used to tell which women are most at risk of going into early labour.
  • We are helping women around the world have healthy pregnancies by trialling a cheap, easy-to-use saliva test that can tell how likely a woman is to give birth prematurely.
  • The SUPPORT trial is the first ever clinical study comparing the effectiveness of three different treatments in preventing premature birth in women with a shortened cervix.
  • Scientists have found that drugs normally used to prevent heart disease may delay preterm birth.

Current research projects

Completed research projects

Why our research is needed

  • Clinician scanning a pregnant woman

    The London Preterm (premature birth) Surveillance Clinic

    This unique Preterm Surveillance Clinic – funded by Tommy's as part of our research in St Thomas' Hospital, London, has won an NHS Innovation Challenge Prize, for its success in reducing the number of premature births in South East London.

  • researcher looking at samples in the Tommy's London centre

    Tommy's London research centre

    Tommy’s prematurity research centre in London is based at St Thomas’ Hospital, where the charity first began. Opened in 1995, it is the first Maternal and Fetal Research Unit in the UK.

  • Pre-term birth statistics

    Premature birth statistics

    A preterm birth is one that happens before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Globally, more than 1 in 10 pregnancies will end in preterm birth.


1. WHO (2012) Country data and rankings for preterm birth 2012, World Health Organisation, Geneva, Switzerland,

2. WHO (2017) Preterm birth fact sheet 2017, World Health Organisation, Geneva Switzerland,

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    Please note that these comments are monitored but not answered by Tommy’s. Please call your GP or maternity unit if you have concerns about your health or your baby’s health.
    • By Sam Johal (not verified) on 9 May 2019 - 14:42

      During the night on 7th April 2019 my waters broke around 3am, I dashed to the toilet as I thought I'd wet myself. I felt a big gush and it continued leaking all the way to the hospital. Was so shocked and intensely scared. This was my 2nd pregnancy- I had a very healthy, good, textbook pregnancy with our first son, who was born in a July 2017. My symptoms were all the same with my pregnancy, and I had no bleeding or spotting of any kind. Physically I was fine too. During the day on the 7th April I felt a bit of pressure down there and my stomach felt a little tight, but no other symptoms at all. I thought this was normal as I had started to feel the baby moving. The doc and midwife at hospital confirmed that my waters had broken, but they were shocked this had happened as there were no other problems visible with me, no infection or temperature and my blood pressure stayed all normal throughout this horrendous ordeal. A scan of the baby confirmed that all the fluid around the baby had been lost , we could see the baby kicking away and the baby was not in any distress at this stage. After several checks and tests and chats with midwifes and consultants they couldn't see why this would have happened as my health was good and normal and couldn't find anything else wrong with baby. We were advised that the baby wouldn't survive at this stage without fluid and that we would lose the baby, but we were told they would monitor things as I still had no bleeding 9 hours on from my waters breaking. The scan also confirmed that the placenta was covering the cervix. I was discharged to think about things and monitor. During the evening that day I started light bleeding and went back to the maternity unit. The doc on duty did another scan and baby was all fine and could see it kicking away. We were told that we had to make a decision as I was at threat of serious infection. We were both devastated WHY. The next day I had to take pill to stop the pregnancy before we were both at any serious health threat. On the 10th April 2019 I was induced at 9am and I gave birth to our stillborn baby son at 10.40am. It all happened very quick, I gave birth and then the afterbirth- placenta followed. There was no severe bleeding or anything, I was warned I could have severe bleeding and suffer from haeomarrage, but it didn't happen. Around 4pm the midwife brought our baby into our room and we spent time with him, touched and held him and took photos. He looked so much like our elder son, with big features. We still couldn't believe what was happening and was emotionally drained and worn out. We decided to do a private cremation for our baby as didn't want to leave him at the hospital. A month on from this very traumatic experience as a mother and parents we want to know WHY and what caused this to happen. The docs and midwifes were very good and doing their job, but I feel like that's it like nothing has ever happened. We have been told that the consultant will call us back to discuss findings of post mortem if there are any findings, there is a 50 percent chance of finding anything out, visibly the baby looked fine the docs said. As a mother I will never ever forget this but need to know for future pregnancy.

    • By Rafia Akhter (not verified) on 20 Mar 2019 - 01:15

      Can you please advise if water break by womb leakage . Then is womb can be well and leak free ? And how?

    • By suksham Jain (not verified) on 23 Feb 2019 - 05:31

      Wonderful initative. We would like to be part of this audit tool . I am working as professor and head Neonatology at GMCH, Chandigarh, India. We are also partof Intergrowth Tool for preterm care and feeding

    • By Padmavathi Bavi... (not verified) on 12 Dec 2018 - 02:29

      I lost my son at 22 week 1 day, we did recognize broke until three days because of other symptoms, I would request mother or parents should have clear an idea on other pregency symptoms and water broke.

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 13 Dec 2018 - 15:56

      Hi Padmavathi, Thank you for your comment.

      We are so very sorry to hear about the loss of your little boy, we can't even begin to imagine what this must be like for you and your family. Waters breaking at such an early gestation does have a high risk for the baby. If you feel that you were not made aware of what was happening to you then it may be beneficial for you to speak to your doctor who can give you a chance to debrief on the whole experience and then this may give you some answers to any questions that you may have. Please take care and be kind to yourself, Tommy's Midwives x

    • By susan Greaves (not verified) on 1 Aug 2018 - 17:04

      I would very much like to know where to find the figures for the increase in premature births in the UK over the last two decades

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