Touching Lives - March 2012
A helping hand for mums at risk of giving birth too early
Premature birth is the biggest killer of babies under one in the UK and survivors are often left with lifelong disabilities. To date there’s been no sure way to identify mums and babies most at risk, so Action funded scientists at Kings College London to research possible indicators which may help predict premature birth.
With some premature births doctors decide to deliver the baby early because complications are threatening the health of mum and baby. But two-thirds of early births are spontaneous, with the mother going into labour or her waters breaking too soon. More than half of these mums are in their first pregnancy.
Sadly, once a woman has gone into labour early doctors can do little to stop the baby from being born. This led Dr Rachel Tribe and her team to look at the indicators shared by women who give birth prematurely, compared to those who carry for a full term. Evidence already shows a link between infection and premature birth. Many women who go into labour early – or whose waters break too soon – have infections, which trigger the body to release a wide variety of signalling molecules that stimulate the immune system. These signalling molecules can be thought of as markers of infection.
Dr Tribe’s team believed these markers could help reveal whether a pregnant woman is at increased risk. Those found to be at risk can then be referred to specialist antenatal care, in an attempt to stop their babies from being born too soon.
The team compared marker levels in 345 women midway through their pregnancies. Some of the women went on to give birth prematurely, went into labour early or experienced their waters breaking too early, whereas others gave birth at full term. From this, the researchers identified two or three markers which could be potentially useful in predicting premature birth.
They now want to test their findings on a wider group of women. The researchers envisage that a cheap and simple test could later be developed and used to screen all first time mothers early in pregnancy.