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General Medical Questions
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Question : This is my first pregnancy. How do I know if am at risk for a pre-term birth?
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The Trusted Source
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Jeffrey Lawrence Ecker, M.D. is a Professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School. He is a member of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he practices maternal-fetal medicine.

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August 20, 2014
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Your due date is determined based on a number of factors.

They include:

  • The date of your last menstrual period (if you have regular 28-day cycles).
  • Ultrasound measurements. (Earliest ultrasounds are most accurate in determining due date.)
  • Date of conception (especially if you’re certain, as with in vitro fertilization).

If you have regular 28-day menstrual cycles, your due date is generally 40 weeks from the first day of your last period. That’s 38 weeks from the day you conceived.  Preterm delivery is any delivery that is fewer than 37 weeks from your last period.

Such early deliveries pose major risks to a newborn’s health. The lungs, brain, eyes, intestines and other organs might not be developed enough.  So they might not function adequately outside the womb.

Around 10% of deliveries in the U.S. are preterm. And women who have had a preterm delivery before have a 25% risk of it happening again.

Other risks for preterm delivery include:

  • Multiple gestations (twins, triplets and beyond)
  • Smoking
  • Bleeding during the third trimester

A portion of preterm deliveries are planned, not spontaneous. That is, the condition of the mother or fetus could lead doctors to recommend a planned, early delivery. Examples of such conditions are preeclampsia or a very small fetus (growth restriction).

Also, there are some risks for premature delivery that doctors discover during the pregnancy.

These include:

  • A short cervix, often found during an ultrasound
  • A regular pattern of contractions happening before 37 weeks
  • Early rupture of membranes (leaking from the bag of water)

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