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.
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:
- the length of your cervix
- the size of your womb
- the size and position of your baby
- whether you are carrying more than one baby
- whether there are any problems with your baby's development
- the size and position of the placenta
- the amount of amniotic fluid.
If the results reveal any potential problems, the healthcare team can take action as quickly as possible.
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.
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.
If it is established that you are in labour, the healthcare team will try to prevent the birth of your baby if possible and if it does not endanger the baby. This is so that they can do their best to prepare you and your baby for their premature birth.
Some common questions about the different risks of premature birth and how you can reduce them.
It's not easy for the healthcare team to discover why some babies are born prematurely, but there are steps that can be taken that can slightly reduce your risk of premature birth.
Preterm birth can be difficult to predict, but some risk factors are known and they can be controlled to slim down the chances of giving birth to your baby too early.
Most preterm babies arrive early without warning. However, some pregnancies are known to be at risk of ending in preterm birth.
The placenta is your baby’s support system in the womb. If your placenta doesn’t work properly, your baby is at risk of health problems.
ℹLast reviewed on April 1st, 2014. Next review date April 1st, 2017.