Three Factors that May Increase the Risk of Premature Birth


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Ingrid Kotch, MD, OB/GYN

More than 15 million babies are born prematurely each year. Here in Massachusetts, less than nine percent of babies are born before completing 37 weeks of gestation, according to the March of Dimes.

The prognosis for premature infants continues to brighten as new treatments are developed. But, as with everything related to health, the best treatment is often prevention.

A developing baby experiences important growth throughout a pregnancy, especially in the final months and weeks. For example, the brain, liver and lungs develop fully in the final weeks of pregnancy. At South Shore Health, we offer a high level of care for high-risk pregnancies. If a woman’s OB/GYN sees signs a pregnancy may be at risk, our Maternal-Fetal Medicine experts are just a call away. Our maternity team keeps an eye on many factors that may indicate a high-risk pregnancy.

Here are some of the most common factors a mother and her care team should watch for:

  1. Advanced maternal age: Some women over the age of 35 have difficulty conceiving. When they do conceive, the risk for early birth can be greater. An older mother can also benefit from genetic screenings early in her pregnancy to test the baby’s risk for genetic diseases, including chromosomal abnormalities such as Trisomy 13, 18 or 21 and neural tube defects. Talk to your OB/GYN about whether you need these tests.
  2. Health issues that develop during pregnancy: Even the healthiest women can experience challenges during pregnancy. Common examples of these issues are gestational diabetes or hypertension. If your OB/GYN notices these issues, he or she may consult with a Maternal-Fetal Medicine expert to evaluate your health and any risk to your baby.
  3. Problems with the uterus, cervix or placenta: Some mothers have a short cervix (also called incompetent cervix). This means your cervix opens (or dilates) too early during pregnancy, usually without contractions or pain. Cervical insufficiency can cause premature birth or miscarriage.

These are just some of the risk factors for premature birth. If you’re concerned about your risk, discuss your concerns with your OB/GYN or midwife. He or she may refer you to a Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist to address your concerns and ensure the best outcome for your baby. If you do deliver a premature baby at South Shore Hospital, we have southeastern Massachusetts’ only Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, which provides the highest level of care for babies that need it.

South Shore Hospital's Maternal-Fetal Medicine Program assists women whose pregnancy may be affected by these and other medical issues. Our comprehensive high-risk pregnancy services include the latest in maternal and fetal screening, diagnostic testing, level II ultrasound and consultative services. For more information, please call 781-624-8430 or visit our website.