Fertility and pregnancy * Babies and children

New device helps prevent premature birth

New device could help prevent premature birth Cervical pessary reduces chance of an early delivery

A low-cost device can dramatically reduce the chances of a premature birth in high risk women, according to a new study.

Worldwide, an estimated 13 million babies are born prematurely, before they reach 37 weeks of pregnancy, every year. 

Spontaneous premature birth is a major cause of death in newborns and can also cause a range of health problems later in life.

But Spanish doctors have found that a simple silicone ring inserted into the cervix of women at high risk of going into labour early can significantly reduce the chances of giving birth before 34 weeks of pregnancy. 

For the study, the researchers recruited nearly 15,000 women who were between 20 and 23 weeks pregnant from five hospitals in Spain. Ultrasound scans were used to identify 380 women with a short cervix - less than 25mm in length - and at higher risk of having a premature birth.

Half of these women had the cervical pessary, while the other half received standard medical care for women at higher risk of an early delivery.

In the pessary group, six per cent of women gave birth before the 34th week, compared with 27 per cent of the women without the pessary.

The pessary had no serious side-effects, and 95 per cent of the women who had one said they would recommend the treatment for others, said the researchers from the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital in Barcelona, Spain.

One of the researchers, Dr Maria Goya, said the pessary was affordable, non-invasive and easy to insert and remove.

The researchers concluded: "The pessary is an affordable, safe, and reliable alternative for prevention of pre-term birth in a population of appropriately selected at-risk pregnant women who have been screened for cervical length assessment at the mid-trimester scan."

The study is published in The Lancet.

This article was published on Tue 3 April 2012

Image © Mikael Damkier - Fotolia.com

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