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Pregnancy Complications

Preterm Labor

Preterm Delivery May Indicate
Subsequent Preterm Birth

If your first baby was delivered prematurely, there's a good possibility that the next one will arrive early as well. According to the results of a new study in the March 22/29 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, a recurrence of preterm delivery accounts for a large portion of all premature births.

Normal gestation is 40 weeks, although most babies born after 37 weeks are considered full term. Approximately 10 percent of white infants and 18 percent of black infants in the United States were born premature in 1997. A premature birth can substantially increase the risk of morbidity (disease) and mortality (death) in newborns. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined data from 122,722 white women and 56,174 black women who delivered either a first or second baby between the years 1980 to 1995, in order to study the prevalence of preterm birth recurrence.

Most women who had a premature baby with their first pregnancy subsequently delivered term infants in their next pregnancy. Records show that the overall rate of preterm deliveries was higher for both black and white women during their first pregnancy. The only exception was that for black women, the rate of extremely premature babies, birth weight below 1500 grams, was nearly the same for their first and second pregnancy.

However, they found that of the 1023 white women who had their first baby between 20 to 31 weeks gestation, 8.2 percent delivered a second infant at the same premature gestation, and 20 percent delivered at between 32-36 weeks. For 1084 comparable black women, 13.4 percent delivered their second newborn at between 20-31 weeks, and 23 percent delivered at 32 to 36 weeks. Age was also found to be a contributing factor. Women younger than 18 were found to have double the risk of a second premature birth.

Recurrence of preterm delivery contributes significantly to the rate of premature birth, conclude the researchers. These results suggest that additional research is needed to identify the causes of recurrence.

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