It’s a common concern among pregnant women – What happens if baby comes too early? For one in ten women, this fear becomes real and they go into labour prematurely.
But a revolutionary way to predict premature births is in sight, thanks to Melbourne researchers. And it could be here within the next three years!
It’s a test 15 years in the making. And it’s so close to being realised. The simple premature labour prediction test, taken at 20-24 weeks gestation, could revolutionise the care of the 15 million infants born prematurely every year.
How does it work?
Essentially, when your body is preparing for labour, it changes. We won’t get into the super gory details but let’s just say your uterus and cervix start preparing for birth with extra fluid, contractions and inflammation.
Researchers at The Royal Women’s Hospital, Mercy Hospital for Women and University of Melbourne have tracked 10 different protein biomarkers (those lovely changes we mentioned above) that occur when your body prepares for imminent birth.
The thing is, most mums have no clue their body is showcasing these signs until bub is making his move. A swab test can determine if your body is preparing for labour. It will also identify if you are at risk of premature birth.
Researchers are currently recruiting 3,000 Victoria mums to be part of the Predicting Preterm Labour study. Mums planning on giving birth at either the Royal Women’s Hospital or the Mercy Hospital for Women in Melbourne, are invited to take part. The study will zero in on the biomarkers most closely associated with pre-term labour.
Preterm labour test could revolutionise maternity care
Melbourne researcher and obstetrician Dr Megan Di Quinzio (below) explains that knowing premature labour could save millions of babies’ lives.
Globally, 15 million babies are born prematurely every year. Around one million of these babies die as a result, including little Austin, who was born at 23 weeks gestation and passed away weeks later.
“The vast majority of women are healthy and have no identified risk factors,” Dr Di Quinzio said. “But up to 10 per cent can experience labour at a preterm gestation without warning.
Even predicting or delaying labour by a few days or weeks and thereby allowing adequate time to prepare the baby for life outside the womb can make a huge difference.”
Predict and prepare for imminent labour
For mums planning on falling pregnant in the next five years, this swab test could save a lot of anxiety, stress and heartache. Knowing that you may be at risk means you can prepare yourself for the possibility and ensure you are getting the care you and bub deserve.
This extra care can make all the difference in the world, especially if you are at risk. It certainly did for mum Briony Swart (below).
Like many mums, Briony’s road to motherhood is riddled with heartbreak. The mum has previously experienced the agony of two stillbirths, both at 21 weeks.
Determined not to let it happen again, doctors kept a close eye on Briony at the Women’s Preterm Labour Clinic. After close monitoring, Briony gave birth last week at term to baby Ziggy.
Having a swab test in place will ensure that mums, like Briony, get access to treatment before it is too late. And before giving birth too soon.
“There is no drug to stop labour, but if we knew it was going to happen, we would get the women to a centre with appropriate neonatal facilities,” Dr Di Quinzio said.
This is second amazing premature births breakthrough from Aussie scientists in recent months. In 2017 a group of Sydney experts uncovered the link between delayed cord clamping and better outcomes for premmies.
For more information on premature births, have a read of Born too soon: What it’s really like when you have a premmie baby.