A premature birth, also called a preterm birth, occurs when a baby is born too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy.

It can happen to anyone

Most women think having a premature baby will never happen to them and most preterm births are unexpected. But it can happen to anyone — even the healthiest women! It crosses all demographics, ages, incomes, and ethnicity.

50%
​without risk factors

You can do everything right during pregnancy, and still have preterm labor and premature birth. Up to 50% of premature births happen to women with no known risk factors.

In the United States, approximately 4,000,000 births occur each year. According to the March of Dimes, the preterm birth rate in the U.S. was 9.8% in 2016, or about 1 in 10 pregnancies — one of the highest rates in the developed world — resulting in approximately 400,000 premature births each year.

​400,000 Premature Births per Year in the United States

Babies that survive being born prematurely may face immediate and life-long health challenges, including cerebral palsy, vision and hearing loss, other chronic conditions, and problems in school. They are also more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Doctor of Obstetrics & Gynecology

Preterm Birth is still our greatest obstetrical/neonatal problem. We can do better.

profile-pic
Lizellen La Follette MD

​What are the risks of premature birth?

Often, the specific cause of premature birth isn't clear.

But there are some known factors that may increase your risk or likelihood of having a premature baby. While the biggest risk factors are the history of a premature baby or having a shortened cervix, some of the other most common risk factors are:

• Prior miscarriage
• Family (sister, mother, or grandmother) premature birth
• Less than 18 months since the last pregnancy
• 35 years old or older
• 17 years old or younger
• Cervical procedures such as LEEP or cone biopsy
• Stress
• Diabetes or high blood pressure
• Pregnant through IVF (in vitro fertilization)
• Smoking
• Sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea
• Environmental pollution

It's important to know how many risk factors you have. However, knowing these risk factors alone is not enough. Traditional predictors of shortened cervix and prior premature birth fail to identify over 80% of women who go on to deliver prematurely. Up to 50% of premature births happen to women with no known risk factors, and 40% of premature births happen to first-time moms!

Symptoms of Premature Labor

“The current mindset is to wait for symptoms.
That’s too late. The earlier we know that someone is at risk, the better chance we have of making a difference.”
Merck For Mothers Advisory Board Member
In most cases, premature labor begins unexpectedly and with no known cause. If you think you’re having any of the following symptoms before 37 weeks, call your doctor right away.

• Contractions (the abdomen tightens like a fist) every 10 minutes or more often
• Change in vaginal discharge — leaking fluid or bleeding from the vagina
• Pelvic pressure — the feeling that the baby is pushing down
• Low, dull backache
• Cramps that feel like a menstrual period
• Abdominal cramps with or without diarrhea

Doctor of Obstetrics & Gynecology

Each week of gestation up to 39 weeks is important for a fetus to fully develop before delivery and have a healthy start.

profile-pic
Jeffrey Ecker MD

Knowledge is power

​The good news is the PreTRM® test predicts your personal risk of delivering prematurely. Knowing if you are at higher risk gives you and your doctor the ability to manage your risk. If you are at lower risk, patients report the reassurance they received from taking the test was immeasurable.

If you are at higher risk for premature birth, there are established interventions for you and your doctor to consider. Premature birth care programs that have been studied in selected groups of pregnant women have shown some benefit to help carry a baby to full term such as:

  • ​Increased office visits
  • ​Cervical length screening & monitoring. A shortened cervix may indicate an increased risk of preterm delivery.
  • ​Cervical cerclage: a “stitch” put into the cervix to help keep it closed
  • ​Cervical pessary: ring-shaped device placed around the cervix to provide support
  • ​Progesterone hormone (according to professional guidelines)
  • ​“Pregnancy Centering”: support groups of moms and caregivers for physical, emotional and medical issues
  • ​Stress reduction
  • ​Stop smoking

Birth is a complex and wonderful process. It goes without saying that everyone hopes for a healthy, full term baby so it's important to know your risk of delivering early. Remember, knowing early gives you the power to prepare with the goal being to help give your baby the best start in life.

<h1>It can happen to anyone</h1>
<p>A premature birth, also called a preterm birth, occurs when a baby is born too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy.</p>
<p>Most women think having a premature baby will never happen to them and most preterm births are unexpected. But it can happen to anyone — even the healthiest women! It crosses all demographics, ages, incomes, and ethnicity.</p>
<p>You can do everything right during pregnancy, and still have preterm labor and premature birth. Up to 50% of premature births happen to women with no known risk factors.</p>
<p>&nbsp;</p>
<p>In the United States, approximately 4,000,000 births occur each year. According to the March of Dimes, the preterm birth rate in the U.S. was 9.8% in 2016, or about 1 in 10 pregnancies — one of the highest rates in the developed world — resulting in approximately 400,000 premature births each year.</p>
<p>Babies that survive being born prematurely may face immediate and life-long health challenges, including cerebral palsy, vision and hearing loss, other chronic conditions, and problems in school. They are also more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).</p>
<p style="text-align: center;"><em>“Preterm Birth is still our</em><br />
 <em> greatest obstetrical/neonatal problem.</em><br />
 <em> We can do better.”</em><br />
 <strong>M. Bardett Fausett, MD</strong><br />
 <strong> Obstetrics and Maternal Fetal Medicine Expert</strong></p>
<h1>What are the risks of premature birth?</h1>
<p>Often, the specific cause of premature birth isn't clear.</p>
<p>But there are some known factors that may increase your risk or likelihood of having a premature baby. While the biggest risk factors are the history of a premature baby or having a shortened cervix, some of the other most common risk factors are:</p>
<p>• Prior miscarriage<br />
 • Family (sister, mother, or grandmother) premature birth<br />
 • Less than 18 months since the last pregnancy<br />
 • 35 years old or older<br />
 • 17 years old or younger<br />
 • Cervical procedures such as LEEP or cone biopsy<br />
 • Stress<br />
 • Diabetes or high blood pressure<br />
 • Pregnant through IVF (in vitro fertilization)<br />
 • Smoking<br />
 • Sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea<br />
 • Environmental pollution</p>
<p>It's important to know how many risk factors you have. However, knowing these risk factors alone is not enough. Traditional predictors of shortened cervix and prior premature birth fail to identify over 80% of women who go on to deliver prematurely. Up to 50% of premature births happen to women with no known risk factors, and 40% of premature births happen to first-time moms!</p>
<h1>Symptoms of Premature Labor</h1>
<p>“The current mindset is to wait for symptoms.<br />
 That’s too late. The earlier we know that someone is at risk, the better chance we have of making a difference.”<br />
 Merck For Mothers Advisory Board Member<br />
 In most cases, premature labor begins unexpectedly and with no known cause. If you think you’re having any of the following symptoms before 37 weeks, call your doctor right away.</p>
<p>• Contractions (the abdomen tightens like a fist) every 10 minutes or more often<br />
 • Change in vaginal discharge — leaking fluid or bleeding from the vagina<br />
 • Pelvic pressure — the feeling that the baby is pushing down<br />
 • Low, dull backache<br />
 • Cramps that feel like a menstrual period<br />
 • Abdominal cramps with or without diarrhea</p>
<h1>Knowledge is power</h1>
<p style="text-align: center;"><em>“Each week of gestation up to 39 weeks is important</em><br />
 <em> for a fetus to fully develop before delivery and have a healthy start.”</em><br />
 <strong>Jeffrey L. Ecker, MD</strong><br />
 <strong> Chair of the American College of Obstetrics &amp; Gynecology’s</strong><br />
 <strong> Committee on Obstetric Practice</strong></p>
<p>The good news is the PreTRM® test predicts your personal risk of delivering prematurely. Knowing if you are at higher risk gives you and your doctor the ability to manage your risk. If you are at lower risk, patients report the reassurance they received from taking the test was immeasurable.</p>
<p>If you are at higher risk for premature birth, there are established interventions for you and your doctor to consider. Premature birth care programs that have been studied in selected groups of pregnant women have shown some benefit to help carry a baby to full term such as:</p>
<p>• Increased office visits<br />
 • Cervical length screening &amp; monitoring. A shortened cervix may indicate an increased risk of preterm delivery.<br />
 • Cervical cerclage: a “stitch” put into the cervix to help keep it closed<br />
 • Cervical pessary: ring-shaped device placed around the cervix to provide support<br />
 • Progesterone hormone (according to professional guidelines)<br />
 • “Pregnancy Centering”: support groups of moms and caregivers for physical, emotional and medical issues<br />
 • Stress reduction<br />
 • Stop smoking</p>
<p>Birth is a complex and wonderful process. It goes without saying that everyone hopes for a healthy, full term baby so it's important to know your risk of delivering early. Remember, knowing early gives you the power to prepare with the goal being to help give your baby the best start in life.</p>
<h1>Next Topic:</h1>
<p><strong><span style="color: #faa634;"><a style="color: #faa634;" href="https://www.pretrm.com/the-effects-of-premature-birth">What is the impact of prematurity?</a></span></strong></p>