Preventing Premature Birth

August 18, 2016 Brigham and Women's Hospital

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Medical and surgical treatment approaches can help prevent or delay preterm birth.

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.

“There are a number of effective treatment approaches that are available to help prevent or delay preterm birth, depending on the patient,” said Dr. Thomas F. McElrath, director of the Preterm Birth Clinic in the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH). “Medications and, in some cases, surgery can be used to minimize risks associated with preterm 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 is key for women at high risk for preterm birth,” said 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.”

Maternal-fetal medicine (MFM) specialists at BWH practice at our main hospital campus in Boston and a variety of community locations, including Brigham and Women’s/Mass General Health Care Center in Foxborough, MA; Emerson Hospital in Concord, MA; Exeter Hospital in Exeter, NH; and Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, MA. These collaborations enable patients to receive expert high-risk pregnancy care close to home. Dr. McElrath sees patients in Boston and Foxborough.

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-Jessica F.


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