An estimated 13 million babies are born before 34 weeks of pregnancy each year, making it one of the most common concerns among expectant women.
Studies have also shown how differently preterm-born children fared versus full-term-born children as they grew up. Aside from being more prone to certain conditions, such as asthma, eye problems and fine motor skills, preterm babies would sometimes require special learning setups catering to their needs.
Thankfully, a medical device called a pessary has been found to dramatically reduce the incidence of preterm births among women at high risk - those women with a cervix shorter than 25 millimeters. A small plastic or silicone device, a pessary is inserted into a woman’s vagina or rectum.
As part of the study, published in the online edition of The Lancet, doctors measured the cervices of 11,875 women who were in between 18 and 22 weeks of pregnancy via ultrasound scan. 726 among these women had a cervix less than 25 millimeters long, half of whom were made to have a pessary inserted into their cervix.
The results revealed that 27 percent of those without a pessary had premature births, while only six percent among those with a pessary gave birth prematurely. Said Professor Steve Thornton of the University of Exeter, who is also a spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “The difference in the two groups is pretty amazing."
Despite the positive turnout, the researchers believe more studies with the medical device still needs to be conducted before confirming its efficacy in preventing preterm births.
Commented Steve Caritis and Hyagriv Simhan from Magee Women's Hospital, Pittsburgh, USA: "The findings...raise the novel and exciting possibility that the anatomic inter-relationship of pelvic organs and their load-bearing capacity are important in pregnancy maintenance. Additional well-designed studies, however, are needed before pessary use can be validated as an effective treatment for women with precocious cervical ripening."
• April 3, 2012. James Gallagher. “Cheap device ‘reduces premature births’” bbc.co.uk
• April 4, 2012. “Pessary may postpone premature birth” nhs.uk
• April 5, 2012. “Pessary Could Prevent Premature Birth in High Risk Women” medicalnewstoday.com