Contributor: Thomas McElrath, MD, PhD, Director of the Preterm Birth Clinic in the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Associate Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School.
There are a number of effective treatment approaches that can help prevent or delay preterm birth depending on a mother’s condition.
“Medications and, in some cases, surgery can be used to minimize risks associated with preterm delivery,” says Dr. McElrath.
One in nine babies in the United States is born prematurely (before 37 weeks of pregnancy). These babies have a higher risk of short- and long-term complications, and the risk increases the earlier the delivery.
To provide additional support to the cervix and help prevent preterm labor, specialists sometimes use a soft flexible ring (pessary) or a stitch (cerclage) at the cervical opening. Other approaches include the use of progesterone, a hormone, to prolong pregnancy.
In addition to a history of preterm delivery, other risk factors for preterm birth include prior cervical surgery, reproductive tract or uterine anomalies, multiple gestation pregnancy (twins, triplets, or more), low or high maternal age, and high blood pressure.
“Preconception planning and specialized care are key for women at high risk for preterm birth,” says Dr. McElrath. “A multidisciplinary team dedicated to evaluating, treating, and monitoring these patients will be able to ensure the best possible outcomes for babies and their families.”
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