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,

Hide details


  • 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

Add new comment