Scientists Are One Step Closer to Finding the Cause of Preterm Labor

Photo: Shutterstock / The Bump
Photo: Shutterstock / The Bump

In new research published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers found that the reason a woman’s water breaks too soon (resulting in preterm labor) may be due to bacteriaLed by the Duke University School of Medicine, the study authors suggest that a certain bacteria found in moms-to-be may lead to a thinning of the membranes around the baby, causing them to tear earlier, and baby to be born sooner than expected.

So, uh, exactly what membranes break? The membranes that make up the sac holding the baby typically don’t break until the start of labor, but in preterm labor, they break earlier. And researchers noted that the early rupture of these membranes causes almost one-third of all preterm births. PPROM (preterm premature rupture of the membranes) is the medical term doctors use to describe this process. And now that researchers know one major cause of preterm labor, they’re one step closer to stopping it.

To test their hypothesis, researchers examined membrane samples in 48 women who’d just given birth. Some of these women had delivered early due to PPROM, others had an early delivery for other reasons and some women delivered babies born at full-term. They found that the bacteria was present in all of the women, but the more bacteria present, the thinner the membranes (especially for women with PPROM).

The Duke team found that high numbers of bacteria where noticeable at the site where membranes rupture in preterm deliveries. And if these early-ruptured membranes are the cause rather than the consequence, the findings could lead to better screening and possible treatments for women at risk of an early delivery.

Amy Murtha, study author, said, “For instance, if we think that certain bacteria are associated with premature rupturing of the membranes, we can screen for this bacteria early in pregnancy. We then might be able to treat affected women with antibiotics and reduce their risk for PPROM. Our research is several steps away from this, but it gives us opportunities to explore potential targeted therapeutic interventions, which we lack in obstetrics.”

Do you think earlier detection and better preventative care could help some women carry to term?

Plus, more from The Bump:

Preterm Labor

What Is PPROM?

Why Preterm Delivery Is Riskier for Boys