Tommy's PregnancyHub

Premature birth cause FAQs

Frequently asked questions on the causes of premature birth

I've had high blood pressure for a long time. Does this mean I'll get pre-eclampsia?

You may not get pre-eclampsia, but you will be at higher risk than women who have not had this problem before. If you have chronic high blood pressure or had high blood pressure at your booking-in appointment, you will be monitored very closely, and may be prescribed a low dose of aspirin.

If you know you have problems with high blood pressure, speak to your GP for advice before you get pregnant if possible and try to improve your lifestyle by keeping to a healthy weight and stopping smoking before you conceive.

How can I tell the difference between normal vaginal discharge and something to worry about?

It is normal to have vaginal discharge, and the amount of discharge does increase during pregnancy. It should be clear or whitish and you will notice an odour, but this should not be very strong or unpleasant. 

It happens because the cervix and walls of the vagina get softer and change slightly in texture in preparation for birth. Extra discharge can help prevent infection travelling from the vagina and into the womb, so it is a good thing for your baby.

A particular type of discharge happens in the last week or so – it may be thicker and have some small streaks of blood in it. This is called a “show” and is represents the mucus that has been in the cervix coming away in preparation for delivery

If you notice any major changes, such as a change in colour or texture, a nasty smell, or if you are itchy or sore down below, talk to your healthcare team as soon as possible.

It may be a mild infection, such as thrush, but it could also indicate a more serious infection. If you have any bleeding, phone your midwife or hospital straight away.

Read more about discharge in pregnancy

I had diabetes before I became pregnant - is it only gestational diabetes that affects pregnancy?

No. Women with diabetes of any kind are considered at high risk of serious health problems during pregnancy - for them and their babies.

Just like gestational diabetes, types 1 and 2 diabetes make you more likely to have a very large baby, which is linked to problems in pregnancy, having an induction,caesarean or miscarriage, and having problems with your eyes or kidneys.

Women with type 1 or 2 diabetes before they get pregnant have slightly higher risk of stillbirth, or their baby having an abnormality with the way the heart or brain develops, or breathing problems needing special care. Fortunately all these problems are rare and most women with diabetes are able to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. 

You will need special advice on how to look after yourself during pregnancy and will also need to take higher levels of folic acid supplements. If you have type 1 diabetes, you will need to be given testing strips to monitor your blood or urine.

If you do have diabetes outside pregnancy, it is very important to see your GP for advice before you fall pregnant. If you can control your diabetes before pregnancy, this will help minimise problems later on.

Read more about gestational diabetes in pregnancy

Read more about type 1 or 2 diabetes in pregnancy

I've heard so much conflicting advice about drinking alcohol during pregnancy - is it really such a big deal?

If you drink when you're pregnant, it passes through your placenta to your baby, which means that it does reach affect your baby. Your baby’s liver is immature when she / he in the womb, and it does not process alcohol out of the blood stream as effectively as yours does. We know that alcohol is associated with a range of problems including miscarriage, poor growth in the womb, and premature birth, and that it can cause learning difficulties, and fetal alcohol syndrome. The problem is that experts don’t know how much alcohol, if any, is 100% safe for the developing baby.

Therefore the Chief Medical Officers across the UK recommend that if you’re pregnant or trying to become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink at all.

If you find you are pregnant after already having drunk in early pregnancy then it is best to avoid further alcohol. If you are planning to drink when pregnant then a sensible precaution is keep track of how much you are consuming.
You can find out how many units there are in different types and brands of drinks with the Drinkaware unit and calorie calculator.

If you have an Android smartphone, iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, you can download the free Change4Life Drinks Tracker from Google Play or the iTunes App Store. It allows you to keep a drinks diary and get feedback on your drinking.

If you are worried that you are drinking too much, then talk to your midwife or doctor.

Confidential help and support is also available through a number of other services:

  • Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline. If you're worried about your own or someone else's drinking, call this free helpline on 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am - 8pm, weekends 11am - 4pm)
  • Addaction is a UK-wide treatment agency that helps individuals, families and communities to manage the effects of alcohol and drug misuse.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a free self-help group. Its "12-step" programme involves getting sober with the help of regular support groups.

Read more about alcohol in pregnancy here.

At my 12-week scan I was told that I could have a low-lying placenta. Should I be worried?

Most women with a low-lying placenta in early pregnancy will not have problems later; in most cases the placenta moves up as the womb grows.

The healthcare team will note the position of the placenta at your 18 to 21-week scan, and if it seems low they will give you a further scan at around 32 weeks to check its position again. In nine out of ten cases it will have moved upwards so will not present a problem for you or your baby as they develop, and will not cause difficulties at the time of deliver. For more information, and what happens for the small number of pregnancies where the placenta stays low, see our page on placenta praevia.

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NICE (2008) CG63 Diabetes in pregnancy: quick reference guide, National Institute for Health and Clinical Evidence,

NHS Choices (accessed Oct 2016, Next review due: 23/11/2017) What complications can affect the placenta?,

NHS Choices (accessed Oct 2016, Next review due: 11/05/2017) Is it normal to have vaginal discharge in pregnancy?,

James D, Steer PJ, Weiner CP (2011) High risk pregnancy management options, Elsevier Saunders

DOH, 2015, Alcohol Guidelines Review – Report from the Guidelines development group to the UK Chief Medical Officers, Department of Health, London, England

RCOG (2011) A low-lying placenta (placenta praevia) after 20 weeks, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

Review dates

Last reviewed: 5 October, 2016
Next review: 5 October, 2019