A test to predict premature birth

If you feel you're at risk of having a premature baby, the Fetal Fibronectin Test could put your mind at rest.

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If you have a history of going into labour early, your whole pregnancy can be a period of acute anxiety.

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There are a number of risk factors that might put you at risk of early labour. But for some women, the tendency to have a premature baby is medically inexplicable.

A non-invasive test called the Fetal Fibronectin Test (sometimes referred to as the fFN) is a means of monitoring whether labour is imminent from weeks 22 to 35 of your pregnancy.

Mum of three Sarah had her first baby at just 26 weeks after having a show at 20 weeks. Baby Charlotte weighed just 2lb 1oz and spent 11 weeks on oxygen in hospital before she was allowed home.

Sarah’s second baby was born even earlier at 23 weeks weighing a mere 1lb. Tiny Isabelle spent 18 weeks in hospital before she could join her family at home.

When she fell pregnant for a third time, she was referred to Professor Andrew Shennan, Consultant Obstetrician at Guy’s & St Thomas’ Hospital in London. She was given a Cyclogest hormone and had to bed rest in hospital from 19-23 weeks of her pregnancy.

She then took the FullTerm Fetal Fibronectin Test which proved to be negative, or normal.

Fetal fibronectin is like a ‘glue’ that is produced by your body during pregnancy to help secure the membranes around the fetus to the uterus.

During a normal pregnancy, only a tiny amount of this glue is found in the vagina between weeks 22-35. The quantity begins to rise from week 35 as the body is preparing to give birth. So if fetal fibronectin is detected from week 22 then it indicates a higher risk of imminent birth.

After taking the test at 26 weeks, Sarah was allowed home because the results indicated that a premature birth was not imminent. She took a further test every two weeks to put her mind at rest.

Baby Matilda was finally born at 36 weeks and 5 days by C-section, weighing in at 6lb 1oz.

Sarah says, ‘The Fetal Fibronectin Test provided the assurance we needed to carry on with our normal busy lives and it really helped me relax a lot.

‘We have been so lucky. Out of all this trauma we have three beautiful girls, who are all so healthy now.’

Prof Shennan, who is also spokesperson for Tommy’s the baby charity, says, ‘Having a test like fetal fibronectin has proved invaluable in being able to give accurate information to women as to their risk of early delivery. 

‘It helps us manage these women, often allowing us to discharge home when otherwise they would spend weeks in hospital.

‘It also allows us to give treatments to help the baby mature, or to prevent delivery in those who are likely to benefit.’

Taking the test is a bit like having a smear test. Medical staff take a swab of the secretions in the vagina near the cervix.

Having a positive fetal fibronectin result does not always means the baby will be born pre-term, although women who do test positive are at a significantly higher risk.

Visit the Tommy’s website here: tommys.org

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Visit the FullTerm Fetal Fibronectin Test website here: fullterm.net

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