Reducing the risk of premature birth

Most preterm babies arrive early without warning. However, some pregnancies are known to be at risk of ending in preterm birth.

Some pregnancies are known to be at risk of ending in preterm birth due to maternal or baby reasons – if this is the case the team looking after you will prepare for it by offering you medicines that help improve the outcome for your preterm baby.

In some cases your doctor may suggest treatment to try and delay the birth to give your baby more time to develop in the womb, but this is not always possible and your doctor will explain the reasons for and against this.

Sometimes it is safest to deliver the baby preterm, for example if you have certain types of infection or severe pre-eclampsia, or if your baby has a health problem. If this is the case then your healthcare team may actually advise you to have the baby early, by induction of labour or caesarean section.

Using all the information available about your pregnancy, your healthcare team will do its best to reduce your risk of premature birth and get the best outcome for you and your baby. There are steps that can help to minimise the risk factors and health problems of premature labour and preterm birth.

First, it is very important to receive all of the antenatal care that is offered in the UK so that your risk of having a premature baby may be fully assessed during pregnancy, and any treatment planned. If you are found to be at risk of preterm birth then your healthcare team may decide that further care is needed, which will vary depending on the reason you are at risk. Second, is to reduce some of the lifestyle factors that are linked to preterm birth. Although the reasons for prematurely born babies are still not fully understood, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk of prematurity.

The sections below run through risk assessments, treatments, and how to reduce your risk factors of preterm birth in more detail.

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  1. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Pre-term labour and birth: draft scope, London NICE, 2014 
  2. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Intrapartum care: management and delivery of care to women in labour, London NICE, 2007
  3. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Antenatal care: routine care for the healthy pregnant woman, London NICE, 2008
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Last reviewed on April 1st, 2014. Next review date April 1st, 2017.

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