Detecting Preterm Labor

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Statistics indicate that as many as 10% of all women have preterm labor and will give birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy. One of the biggest complications from preterm birth is that, depending on how early the baby arrives, he or she may be in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for several weeks to even months. Reducing the numbers of preterm birth is of vital interest, then, to both parents and care providers.

Medical providers now believe that a new test called the fetal fibronectin test (fFN) may help to predict preterm labor. If the mother is in her 24th through 34th week of pregnancy, the presence of fFN might be an indicator of preterm labor.

What is Fetal fibronectin

Fetal fibronectin is a protein that attaches the amniotic sac to the lining of the mother’s uterus and acts as a sort of pregnancy “glue.” It can be found in the mother’s normal vaginal discharge from early pregnancy thru about the middle of the second trimester. After 22 weeks of pregnancy, fFN is typically no longer present until 1-3 weeks before the mother’s due date.

How does it work

If fFN is detected between 22 and 34 weeks of gestation, it may be an indicator that this pregnancy glue is beginning to break down ahead of schedule and can alert the mother’s medical care provider to a possible preterm labor.

One of the most helpful aspects of the fetal fibronectin test is with a negative test result. If a mother is having symptoms of preterm labor, but has a negative test result on the fFN, it can help her to avoid unnecessary interventions such as restricting her activity and taking medications to slow contractions (called tocolytics.)

The reality is that some mothers will have frequent Braxton-Hick contractions or even find out from their provider through a vaginal exam that their cervix is beginning to soften, engage or even dilate well in advance of their due date.

These symptoms are not always an indicator of preterm labor. So in this case, if a mother takes a fFN test and her result is negative, then she can be assured that her chances of going into preterm labor are likely to be small. If the mother’s test result to fFN is positive, then her provider might advise taking action such as bedrest and medication to slow contractions.

Conclusion

Th fFn is a promising new test that is a non-invasive way to help the mother and her care provider anticipate how to decipher when labor may happen.

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