Preterm labor and delivery can happen to any pregnant woman. But they happen more often to some women than to others. Researchers continue to study preterm labor and birth. They have identified some risk factors, but still cannot predict which women will give birth too early. Having a risk factor does not mean a woman will have preterm labor or preterm birth. It means she is more likely to have preterm labor or birth than other women.
Three groups of women are at greatest risk of preterm labor and birth:
- Women who have had a previous preterm birth
- Women who are pregnant with twins, triplets or more
- Women with certain uterine or cervical abnormalities
If you have any of these three risk factors, it's especially important for you to know the signs and symptoms of preterm labor and what to do if they occur.
Lifestyle and Environmental Risks
Some studies have found that certain lifestyle factors may put a woman at greater risk of preterm labor. These factors include:
- Late or no prenatal care
- Drinking alcohol
- Using illegal drugs
- Exposure to the medication DES
- Domestic violence, including physical, sexual or emotional abuse
- Lack of social support
- Long working hours with long periods of standing
Certain medical conditions during pregnancy may increase the likelihood that a woman will have preterm labor. These conditions include:
- Urinary tract infections, vaginal infections, sexually transmitted infections and possibly other infections
- High blood pressure
- Clotting disorders (thrombophilia)
- Bleeding from the vagina
- Certain birth defects in the baby
- Being pregnant with a single fetus after in vitro fertilization (IVF)
- Being underweight before pregnancy
- Short time period between pregnancies (less than 6-9 months between birth and the beginning of the next pregnancy)
Researchers also have identified other risk factors. For instance, African-American women, women younger than 17 or older than 35, and poor women are at greater risk than other women. Experts do not fully understand why and how these factors increase the risk that a woman will have preterm labor or birth.
What Can Women Do?
Remember, though, even if you have one of these risk factors, it does not mean you will have preterm labor. It just means that you are at greater risk than a woman who does not have a risk factor. Still, knowing you're at risk is scary. That's why it's so important that you:
- Know the signs and symptoms of preterm labor
- Know what to do if you have any of them
- Take very good care of yourself and your baby while you're pregnant
- This is the best way to protect yourself and your baby against preterm labor and delivery.
The March of Dimes is funding research to better understand risk factors and the causes of premature birth.
Content courtesy of the March of Dimes.