NPR

Scientists Search For Causes Of Preterm Birth And Better Ways To Test For Risk

Preterm birth, a leading cause of death in infants, remains stubbornly hard to prevent. Researchers are on the hunt for a better understanding of what causes it and better ways to diagnose risk.
Scientists are in the early stages of developing new tests that could predict accurately if a woman is at risk of delivering her baby early. Source: Steve Debenport

In 1998, 25 weeks into her pregnancy, Sara Arey's cervix dilated and her amniotic sac started to descend into the birth canal. She was rushed to a hospital an hour and a half away from her home near Hickory, N.C., where she stayed for more than a week before her baby was born via emergency C-section. The baby, a girl, died 12 hours later in the hospital.

Arey had already had two prior miscarriages and one preterm birth in 1994. Had she been able to take a test for her risk of preterm birth, she says that she would have. She would have liked to have known her risk as early as possible, she says.

"When you're pregnant, you're at the most vulnerable point of your life," she says. "You feel this joy of this being, but also enormous responsibility."

Unfortunately for mothers in her situation, there's currently no reliable way of predicting preterm birth risk. Yet nearly 1 out of 10 babies born in the U.S. were born premature (before 37 weeks) in 2016, and, according to , that rate rose slightly between 2014 and 2016 after a decade

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from NPR

NPR1 min read
Imogen Heap: Tiny Desk Concert
Imogen Heap takes us through her many musical talents, from her Frou Frou musical partner, Guy Sigsworth — and their first new song in 17 years — to an extraordinary performance with musical gloves.
NPR3 min readPolitics
Biden Defends Comments About Working With Segregationist Lawmakers
"You don't have to like the people, in terms of their views," Joe Biden said Wednesday night, as other Democratic candidates piled on criticism.
NPR3 min read
This 'Spectral Hue' Has A Shimmering Life Of Its Own
Craig Laurance Gidney's debut adult novel is set in a marshy, mysterious rural town where a community of artists, students and townspeople are united by visions of a strange, pinkish-purple color.