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Preterm labour and birth

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Last updated:20th Nov 2015

This guideline covers the care of women at increased risk of or with symptoms and signs of preterm labour (before 37 weeks) and women having a planned preterm birth. It aims to reduce the risks of preterm birth for the baby and describes treatments to prevent or delay early labour and birth.

Preterm birth is the single biggest cause of neonatal mortality and morbidity in the UK. Over 52,000 babies (around 7.3% of live births) in England and Wales in 2012 were born preterm – that is, before 37+0 weeks of pregnancy. There has been no decline in the preterm birth rate in the UK over the last 10 years.

Babies born preterm have high rates of early, late and postneonatal mortality, and the risk of mortality increases as gestational age at birth decreases. Babies who survive have increased rates
of disability. Recent UK studies comparing cohorts born in 1995 and 2006 have shown improved rates of survival (from 40% to 53%) for extreme preterm births (born between 22 and 26 weeks). Rates of disability in survivors were largely unchanged over this time period.

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