A new test to predict if pregnant women with preterm contractions are going to give birth within one week has just been created, which offers new ways to delay delivery and have urgent care ready for the premature baby.

The biggest concern in perinatal medicine today is delivery before 37 full weeks, or preterm delivery. Babies have a higher chance of serious complications if they are born early. It heightens the chance of the child being severely sick, both at birth and in the future.

The trouble is that many women check in to the hospital with early contractions, but only 30% actually give birth before full term.

Although prior research has shown that premature birth survival rates have improved, and that if these babies are born in high-level neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) then they have a high chance of surviving, premature birth rates are still increasing. Worldwide, nearly 15 million babies were born prematurely in 2010.

In the current study, a team of experts at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, examined 142 pregnant ladies who checked in at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, between 1995 and 2005, with early contractions without rupture of the membranes.

After their research, which was published in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, they discovered a way to develop a new method that can determine, with high precision, if a pregnant woman with contractions will have her baby within one week.

Panagiotis Tsiartas, researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg and specialist at the Obstetrical and Gynecological Clinic at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, explained:

“To have time to give the woman cortisone, which speeds up the development of the fetal lungs, it is common practice to delay the delivery by a couple of days with the help of tocolytic treatment. Being able to predict if a woman who comes to the hospital with preterm contractions will actually give birth early and thereby requires follow-up and possible treatment is therefore very important.”

This technique is a newly developed blood test that analyzes two specific proteins in the blood of a pregnant woman, while also measuring the length of the cervix with an already well-known examination that uses ultrasound.

According to the scientists, the method can predict, with 75 to 80% accuracy, if a woman will give birth before schedule.

Further research needs to be carried out, and have similar results, before hospitals can start to use this method.

Researchers believe that their test could potentially lead to the development of new treatments that could prevent premature birth, and even treat the severe issues that accompany it

Written by Sarah Glynn