Q: [Mother-to-Be] I read that premature birth is on the rise. As a mother-to-be, how can I manage my own risks?
A: Premature birth, defined as delivering before 37 weeks, is the leading cause of newborn death globally and a significant unmet medical need. While Orange County fared better than the nation overall, at a rate of 7.6%, or 1 in 13 babies that will be born too soon, this figure is getting worse, not better. Just like in the rest of the nation, more women gave birth prematurely here in 2016 than they did last year or the year before.
Many patients believe that if they take care of themselves, go to their prenatal visits, exercise and eat right it won’t happen to them. The Orange County statistics prove otherwise, confirming that premature birth can happen to anyone. In fact, it happened to my wife who gave birth to our daughter 7 weeks early.
Women who are at risk for preterm labor should receive increased monitoring, including additional outpatient appointments, increased telephone conversations, education on changes in contraction patterns, urine screening, or even modified bed rest. Administering progesterone and monitoring the length of a woman’s cervix has also been shown to lengthen the time the baby stays in-utero.
There is a clinically validated blood test called the PreTRM test that can be administered during 19 or 20 weeks of gestation that can identify those women who are at significantly higher risk. For patients, it gives them a chance to prepare for having a baby too soon, from avoiding late pregnancy vacations to making sure the nursery is ready and car seat purchased earlier than originally planned.
Early prediction provides doctors the information they need to proactively manage the pregnancy more closely. This information also gives the patient the opportunity to prepare for an early delivery and plan accordingly. Alternatively, receiving a low risk result can provide women with reassurance and peace of mind.
In the U.S., we have access to some of the top medical facilities, care, and treatment in the world. There’s no reason we should be experiencing an increasing preterm birth rate. Doctors need to do everything they can to reduce this issue now that there’s a viable way to predict it.
Howard C. Mandel MD, FACOG is a practicing Obstetrician Gynecologist who has dedicated his life to the practice of high quality health care and assuring access to such care.