Can You Prevent Preterm Labor?
Compelling new research says it may be possible. Here, nine surprising ways to help get your baby to term - and to a healthier start in life
3. Get tested. Recent research suggests that uterine infections that can begin in the lower genital tract may be responsible for up to half of all preterm births, particularly those that occur before 30 weeks' gestation, according to Dr. Gibbs. During a vaginal bacterial infection, for example, the body releases infection-fighting chemicals known as cytokines, which cause inflammation. This inflammation, in turn, launches the release of prostaglandins, which begin the chemical process that initiates contractions and the dilation of the cervix.
That infections can trigger preterm birth isn't new information -- it's been known for years that such sexually transmitted diseases as gonorrhea and chlamydia increase preterm birth risk. But doctors are now looking at other suspect infections like bacterial vaginosis (BV), a condition that can cause an unpleasant odor and gray discharge. It's more common in African-American women who, incidentally, also have higher rates of preterm birth.
Recent studies have found that treating high-risk women who have symptoms of BV with an oral antibiotic appears to reduce their rates of early delivery. But BV doesn't always cause symptoms, and studies to determine whether precautionary antibiotics would lower a woman's risk have not shown a beneficial effect.
Recognizing and treating infections early or before pregnancy may hold the key to lowering preterm birth rates as much as 30 percent, says Dr. Gibbs. Other risky conditions that are being studied include periodontal (gum) disease, untreated urinary-tract infections, and trichomoniasis. Get screened for all of these during pregnancy -- it can improve your odds of having a healthy baby.