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Sharp Health News

What causes premature birth?

April 27, 2017

What causes premature birth?

Preterm birth occurs when a baby is born before 37 weeks of gestation. Medical options are available for expectant mothers who may be at risk for preterm birth to help prevent their babies from being born too early.

What are risk factors of preterm labor?
If you have a previous preterm birth or a family history of preterm birth, or you are pregnant with twins, triplets or higher-order multiples, you are at higher risk.

Other risk factors include:

  • Extremes of maternal age
  • A low or high body mass index (BMI)
  • A history of cervical surgery
  • Uterine malformations such as a bicornuate or “heart-shaped” uterus
  • Medical conditions such as hypertension, kidney abnormalities, diabetes or autoimmune disorders such as lupus
  • Vaginal bleeding during first and second trimesters
  • A short cervix between 16 to 24 weeks of gestation
  • A dilated cervix of 1 centimeter before 24 weeks of gestation
  • Infections such as bacteria in the urine
  • Periodontal disease

When should a woman contact her doctor if she has one of these risk factors?
Dr. Sean Daneshmand, a maternal fetal medicine doctor affiliated with Sharp HealthCare, stresses the importance of preconception counseling to optimize your pregnancy outcome.

Dr. Daneshmand also recommends choosing a hospital that can take care of a premature baby, specifically one with a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). If you experience any vaginal bleeding, suspect a urinary tract infection or have symptoms of uterine contractions, contact your doctor immediately or go to a hospital.

What are medical options for preterm labor?
Currently, there are no definitive medical signs to identify if someone will go into labor early. However, there are treatment options to improve the health of your unborn baby if you are experiencing preterm labor.

If there is a history of preterm birth with a singleton pregnancy, a weekly injection of progesterone may be given between 16 to 36 weeks. In addition, if a woman’s cervix is shortening below a certain length in centimeters, she may undergo cervical cerclage, which is the placement of a suture, or “stitch,” in the cervix to give it more strength.

If a woman has no history of preterm delivery but has a shortened cervix, she may receive daily vaginal progesterone until 36 weeks.

In the presence of uterine contractions, a fetal fibronectin (fFN) test may be ordered to test for uterine leakage and further delineate the risk of premature delivery.

Learn more about preterm birth and register for Sharp’s preterm birth prevention class for expectant parents on

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