Science might have figured out one cause of premature births: Researchers at Duke University's School of Medicine found that high levels of certain types of bacteria can trigger early labor. Apparently, these bacteria can make the membrane on the amniotic sac holding the baby thinner and more likely to split, sending the mom-to-be into labor ahead of time.
These kinds of bacteria aren't preventable, or even necessarily bad. The presence of the naturally-occurring bacteria is quite normal for full-term births — after all, that sac's gotta split sometime. The bad news is that high numbers of it, resulting in preterm premature rupture of the membranes, or PPROM, are responsible for about one-third of all preemie births.
Researchers examined 48 membranes from women who had given birth early, on time, and late. They found that more bacteria than usual was present at the places where membranes tear, and that in women with PPROM, membranes were thinner than usual.
And the findings are actually good news for expecting moms: If high numbers of bacteria are responsible for the rupture, as opposed to a consequence of it, it could be possible to screen women in the early weeks of pregnancy for just that.
"We then might be able to treat affected women with antibiotics and reduce their risk for PPROM," said study author and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology Amy Murtha. "Our research is several steps away from this, but it gives us opportunities to explore potential targeted therapeutic interventions, which we lack in obstetrics."
Over in the United Kingdom, they've figured that bacteria causes PPROM for quite a while.
"We've long suspected and known that bacteria are involved in a large proportion of these women," said Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Dr. Patrick O'Brien. "What we really need to know now is to understand the detailed mechanism of how bacteria cause the waters to break."