1 in 8 babies are born prematurely (before 37 weeks). This is a staggering number of babies each year, and while most babies do well, some need to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit for weeks or months. Though there are risk factors that increase a woman’s chance of delivering prematurely, many women who do go into labor early have no known risk factors.
Here are some things women can do to avoid premature labor:
- Stop smoking.
- Avoid street drugs.
- Get your teeth cleaned. As strange as this sounds, women with periodontal disease have a higher chance of a premature delivery.
- Ask for the Fetal Fibronectin test – this helps predict which women will deliver early.
- Call your provider if you experience any cramping or feelings of pressure that occur 6 or more times in one hour.
The Fetal Fibronectin test is a simple test that can be done in a doctor’s office. It’s similar to a pap smear, and a swab is inserted in to the vagina. It’s then analyzed for the presence of fetal fibronectin. Between week 22 and week 35, there should not be any in the vagina. Much like liquid glue that children use to keep two pieces of paper together, fetal fibronectin is like the glue that holds the baby in the uterus. Early in pregnancy, this “glue” isn’t dry and can leak into the vagina, but by 22 weeks, it should be set and none should be detected.
If the swab test is positive and finds the fetal fibronectin, then there is an increased chance that a woman will go into labor and deliver prematurely. This means that we as health care providers need to do more testing for possible causes, like an infection. Most women will then have an ultrasound to check the length of their cervix and to see if it’s dilating or opening up.
If the test is negative, then we all breathe a big sigh of relief, because we know that less than 1% of women will go on to deliver in the next two weeks. This helps us as providers decide who needs bed rest, medication, or even to be in the hospital.
-Barbara Dehn, RN MS NP