While the goal is for every baby to be born healthy and at full term, the reality is that premature birth, also known as preterm birth, is the number one obstetric problem and the number one cause of death for newborns in the country. Defined medically as childbirth occurring earlier than 37 completed weeks of gestation, preterm birth affects one in eight babies born in the United States.
Premature babies have a higher incidence of lifelong health and developmental challenges, including cerebral palsy, mental retardation, chronic lung disease, and vision and hearing loss. Given the potential grave consequences possible with prematurity, there is a pressing need to identify patients at increased risk to help physicians prepare for a potential preterm birth.
Experts have determined that some women are at increased risk for delivering early. They include women who have had a previous preterm birth, those who are pregnant with multiples, and those with certain uterine or cervical abnormalities. FullTerm™, The Fetal Fibronectin Test is an FDA-approved, noninvasive test that provides high-risk women and their physicians with valuable information about the likelihood of premature birth.
The test can be performed in a doctor’s office (similar to a Pap smear test) and measures the amount of fetal fibronectin — the “glue” that holds the baby in the womb — in the vagina. There are no side effects to either mom or baby, and the test can be repeated every two weeks until 35 weeks of pregnancy. During weeks 22 to 35, fetal fibronectin should be almost undetectable.
If the test is negative, a woman has a 99 percent chance of not delivering in the next 14 days. This means women can avoid over-treatment with drugs and other medical interventions such as bed rest or hospital admission. Additionally, the reassurance of a negative test result allows women to continue their normal routines, such as working, traveling, caring for other children, and socializing with friends and family.
A positive result is a predictor of preterm birth at less than 32 weeks. Identifying the delivery window can help doctors better manage pregnancies destined to deliver preterm and attempt to keep babies in the womb for as long as possible. Doctors may prescribe medications such as corticosteroids to optimize infant survival, or adjust maternal behaviors to prolong pregnancies.
Every extra day in the womb helps a baby's organs grow. Women for whom preterm birth is inevitable benefit from the early warning, which allows them to travel closer to a hospital with specialized maternal and infant services for these situations.
For additional information on FullTerm, The Fetal Fibronectin Test, visit www.fullterm.net
.Dr. Anthony Vintzileos is a Board-certified obstetrician and maternal fetal medicine specialist in practice at Woman’s Contemporary Care Associates in Queens; (516) 663-3060.