The Crazy Way Scientists Believe We Can Prevent Premature Birth

Could preventing premature birth be as simple as using a particular type of bacteria? Researchers have reason to believe so.

Premature Baby OndroM/Shutterstock
Delivering prematurely is one of the scariest birth outcomes for most women—so what if we told you that researchers may have identified a major risk factor for prematurity...and based on this, may be able to leverage a method of preventing it?

These findings will be presented on January 26 at the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine's annual The Pregnancy Meeting: Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Maryland collected vaginal swabs from 2,000 pregnant women at three different points during pregnancy, and analyzed the swabs. They found that when certain bacteria were present, a woman's risk of delivering preterm became lower; other bacteria types were associated with an increased risk of preterm birth.

Researchers pointed out that preterm birth has long been a frustrating issue for doctors—there haven't been many reliable screenings for women to undergo to assess their risk of giving birth early, and as a result, there isn't much in the way of prevention for preterm birth. This research could be pretty revolutionary—that is, if it gains more traction. Could bringing down a woman's risk of delivering prematurely come down to altering the bacteria present in her cervix?

These results are somewhat unexpected, as most experts had operated under the idea that premature birth risk started in the uterus. The researchers opted to look at the issue from a different lens, and they discovered this relationship.

This finding could represent a huge change in how we think about premature birth, and could create a new treatment option to help slash the number of premature births in the U.S. Preterm birth is the top killer of babies in the U.S., and even babies who survive face significant risks, so the significance of this can't be underestimated. 

"We are very excited to report that we did find significant differences in the microbial communities early in pregnancy in women who ultimately have a preterm birth compared to a term birth," Michal Elovitz, M.D., who was involved with the study, said in a release. "Different bacterial species were associated with quite a dramatic increased risk of premature birth. If our study is confirmed, it could mean that targeting CV bacteria may be a new therapy to prevent premature birth in the immediate future."