Although the exact cause of preterm birth is often unknown, there are some things that can be done to help women — especially those who have an increased risk — to reduce their risk of preterm birth, including:

  • Progesterone supplements. Women who have a history of preterm birth, a short cervix or both factors may be able to reduce the risk of preterm birth with progesterone supplementation.
  • Cervical cerclage. This is a surgical procedure that helps prevent premature birth in women pregnant with only one baby who have a history of premature birth or who have a short cervix or both.

    During this procedure, the cervix is stitched closed with strong sutures that may provide extra support to the uterus. The sutures are removed when it's time to deliver the baby. Ask your doctor if you need to avoid vigorous activity during the remainder of your pregnancy.

Although not as well-studied as progesterone supplements and cerclage, there's also some evidence that the following things may help reduce the risk of premature birth:

  • Eat a healthy diet even before you get pregnant. Although it's no guarantee of a full-term pregnancy, eating a healthy diet containing several servings of protein-rich foods, fruits and whole grains before you get pregnant may reduce your risk of premature birth. But, a diet high in fat, sugar and processed foods, such as chips and white bread, before pregnancy has been linked to a higher risk of premature birth.
  • Calcium supplements. Taking 1,000 milligrams (mg) or more of calcium daily may lower your risk of preeclampsia — a serious complication of pregnancy — and preterm birth, especially for women who normally consume low amounts of calcium in their diets.
  • Daily low-dose aspirin. Beginning late in the first trimester, taking a low-dose aspirin — 60 to 80 mg — daily appears to help certain women reduce the risk of premature birth. Women who may benefit from low-dose aspirin therapy include those with a history of preterm birth or preeclampsia, as well as women with chronic high blood pressure.
  • Cervical pessary. Women pregnant with just one baby who have a short cervix may reduce their risk of premature birth with a cervical pessary. A pessary is a silicone device that fits around the cervix and may help support the uterus.
  • Reduce chemical exposure. Exposure to phthalates — chemicals used to manufacture many products such as plastic, canned foods, cosmetics, nail polish and hairspray — is associated with a higher risk of premature birth. It isn't yet known if reducing exposure to these products would reduce the risk of premature birth, but it's a good idea to limit your exposure whenever you can.
Nov. 27, 2014