A simple test has been developed to show whether mums-to-be with symptoms of premature labour are real or just a false alarm.
Many women show signs of a premature delivery, such as vaginal spotting or bleeding, tightening of the abdomen, or pressure in the thighs and pelvis. However, less than half actually go into labour soon afterwards. This means expectant mums often have to undergo unnecessary tests and hospital stays.
The new test hopes to prevent this happening by looking for a protein called fetal fibronectin (fFN). fFN is the protein which helps the fetal sac attach to the uterus. Previous studies have found that when fFN is found to be leaking at a certain stage of pregnancy, a premature birth is more likely.
The test is simple to perform and can be done at the same time as the vaginal examination routinely carried out when mums-to-be are admitted with abdominal pain.
If the results show low levels of fFN, the risk of premature delivery is very low.
“Threatened pre-term labour often causes much anxiety for women,” said lead researcher Dr Anna David. “The fetal fibronectin test has been found to be very accurate at predicting those women who will not imminently deliver. Women with a negative test can be reassured that they do no need inpatient care. They can therefore avoid leaving their families for observation in a hospital.”
The researchers followed 22 cases of women admitted to hospital with signs of premature labour. Of these, 17 didn’t give birth during their hospital stay, which averaged eight days.
The test is not commonly used in all maternity units but hopefully the results will lead to more widespread use.
Find out more about premature labour and birth