Preterm birth — birth before 37 weeks — is a significant fetal health concern. Every day a baby is in the womb is critical to growth and development, including the brain, lungs, and liver which fully develop in the final weeks of pregnancy.
Last year, 10 percent of infants in the United States were born preterm. Black mothers had an even higher rate (14.4 percent) of preterm birth. Babies born before 32 weeks have higher rates of death and chronic disability, including vision, hearing, or breathing problems, cerebral palsy, developmental delays, and feeding difficulties. Plus, preterm births cost over $25.2 billion every year.
A mother’s journey
Ashley Randolph loves being a wife and mother. She and her family live in Sacramento, California, where Randolph is an advocate for mothers, preterm babies, and Black families. She’s the founder of Glo Preemies and co-founder of the Alliance For Black NICU Families.
All three of her babies were born prematurely. During each pregnancy, she experienced hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe morning sickness. Her oldest son, now 11, was born at 34 weeks. He spent two weeks in the NICU. He has bad eyesight and wears glasses. He also has asthma.
Her second child, a daughter, was born at 34 weeks and three days. She spent two-and-a-half weeks in the NICU and had breathing and feeding issues.
Randolph’s third child, a girl, was born at 36 weeks. She was the smallest of Randolph’s babies, weighing just 3 pounds and 10 ounces. Unlike her siblings, she didn’t have breathing, feeding, or vision problems.
The limitations of current preterm birth assessment
Medical providers don’t have reliable methods to identify women like Ashley who are likely to deliver prematurely.
Current methods include looking at risk factors, characteristics that may indicate if a woman is at increased chance of delivering early. A mother-to-be could be at risk if she’s had a premature baby before; if she’s pregnant with multiples; if she has problems with her cervix or uterus; or if she’s underweight or overweight. She may also be at risk if she has medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and preeclampsia, among others.
“Despite all the advances in obstetrical diagnostics and therapeutics over the past 10 years, preterm birth remains the major contributor to neonatal morbidity and mortality. There is a real opportunity to help clinicians better identify and stratify patients at increased risk of having a premature birth who otherwise have no known risk factors,” says Dr. Mike Foley, chief medical officer at health diagnostics company Sera Prognostics, Inc. “Moms are left unprepared and healthcare providers are left without pivotal information that they could use to help make better decisions throughout the pregnancy management process.”
A new way to screen for preterm birth
Now a blood test can screen moms-to-be for the likelihood they’ll deliver prematurely. The PreTRM® Test, by Sera Prognostics, Inc., dubbed The Pregnancy Company™, measures and analyzes proteins in the blood that are highly predictive of preterm birth.
The commercially available blood-based biomarker test — taken during the 19th or 20th week of pregnancy — provides you with a personalized risk assessment. The timing of the test coincides with a typical anatomy scan or ultrasound during that time frame.
The PreTRM Test is a single blood draw that’s ordered by a medical professional. Test results are sent to the doctor in an average of seven days from receiving the blood sample, empowering medical providers and patients to make more informed, personalized clinical decisions based on each woman’s individual risk.
“Our goal is ultimately that this becomes a standard of care so that every woman is able to understand her own individual risk, and then her physician is able to prioritize treatment to help extend the baby’s gestational age,” says Foley.
Randolph says this test is a game changer.
“Mom always knows best, and you know your body more than anyone. If there’s any question of ‘Will my child come early?’ I think that’s important because that gives you more time to do anything extra that you need to.”
She urges women, “Don’t be frightened. Don’t let it scare you. Take time to educate yourself on prematurity and what it looks like. It’s just another piece of education that you need.”
Learn more about the PreTRM Test at pretrm.com.