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1.  The Effect of Changing Patterns of Obstetric Care in Scotland (1980–2004) on Rates of Preterm Birth and Its Neonatal Consequences: Perinatal Database Study 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(9):e1000153.
Jane Norman and colleagues analyzed linked perinatal surveillance data in Scotland and find that between 1980 and 2004 increases in spontaneous and medically induced preterm births contributed equally to the rising rate of preterm births.
Background
Rates of preterm birth are rising worldwide. Studies from the United States and Latin America suggest that much of this rise relates to increased rates of medically indicated preterm birth. In contrast, European and Australian data suggest that increases in spontaneous preterm labour also play a role. We aimed, in a population-based database of 5 million people, to determine the temporal trends and obstetric antecedents of singleton preterm birth and its associated neonatal mortality and morbidity for the period 1980–2004.
Methods and Findings
There were 1.49 million births in Scotland over the study period, of which 5.8% were preterm. We found a percentage increase in crude rates of both spontaneous preterm birth per 1,000 singleton births (10.7%, p<0.01) and medically indicated preterm births (41.2%, p<0.01), which persisted when adjusted for maternal age at delivery. The greater proportion of spontaneous preterm births meant that the absolute increase in rates of preterm birth in each category were similar. Of specific maternal complications, essential and pregnancy-induced hypertension, pre-eclampsia, and placenta praevia played a decreasing role in preterm birth over the study period, with gestational and pre-existing diabetes playing an increasing role. There was a decline in stillbirth, neonatal, and extended perinatal mortality associated with preterm birth at all gestation over the study period but an increase in the rate of prolonged hospital stay for the neonate. Neonatal mortality improved in all subgroups, regardless of obstetric antecedent of preterm birth or gestational age. In the 28 wk and greater gestational groups we found a reduction in stillbirths and extended perinatal mortality for medically induced but not spontaneous preterm births (in the absence of maternal complications) although at the expense of a longer stay in neonatal intensive care. This improvement in stillbirth and neonatal mortality supports the decision making behind the 34% increase in elective/induced preterm birth in these women. Although improvements in neonatal outcomes overall are welcome, preterm birth still accounts for over 66% of singleton stillbirths, 65% of singleton neonatal deaths, and 67% of infants whose stay in the neonatal unit is “prolonged,” suggesting this condition remains a significant contributor to perinatal mortality and morbidity.
Conclusions
In our population, increases in spontaneous and medically induced preterm births have made equal contributions to the rising rate of preterm birth. Despite improvements in related perinatal mortality, preterm birth remains a major obstetric and neonatal problem, and its frequency is increasing.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Most pregnancies last about 40 weeks but increasing numbers of babies are being born preterm, before they reach 37 weeks of gestation (gestation is the period during which a baby develops in its mother). Nowadays in the US, for example, more than half a million babies arrive earlier than expected every year (1 in 8 babies). Although improvements in the care of newborn babies (neonatal care) mean that preterm babies are more likely to survive than in the past, preterm birth remains the single biggest cause of infant death in many developed countries, and many preterm babies who survive have long-term health problems and disabilities, particularly those born before 32 weeks of gestation. Preterm births can be spontaneous or medically induced. At present, it impossible to predict which mothers will spontaneously deliver early and there is no effective way to prevent these preterm births; medically induced early labor is undertaken when either the unborn baby or mother would be at risk if the pregnancy continued to full term.
Why Was This Study Done?
Preterm birth rates need to be reduced, but before this can be done it is important to know how the causes of preterm birth, the numbers of preterm stillbirths, and the numbers of preterm babies who die at birth (neonatal deaths) or soon after (perinatal deaths) are changing with time. If, for example, the rise in preterm births is mainly due to an increase in medically induced labor and if this change in practice has reduced neonatal deaths, it would be unwise to try to reduce the preterm birth rate by discouraging medically induced preterm births. So far, data from the US and Latin America suggest that the increase in preterm births in these countries is solely due to increased rates of medically induced preterm births. However, in Europe and Australia, the rate of spontaneous preterm births also seems to be increasing. In this study, the researchers examine the trends over time and causes of preterm birth and of neonatal death and illness in Scotland over a 25-year period.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
By searching a Scottish database of linked maternity records and infant health and death records, the researchers identified 1.49 million singleton births that occurred between 1980 and 2004 of which nearly 90,000 were preterm births. Over the study period, the rates of spontaneous and of medically induced preterm births per 1,000 births increased by 10.7% and 41.2%, respectively, but because there were more spontaneous preterm births than medically induced preterm births, the absolute increase in the rates of each type of birth was similar. Several maternal complications including preeclampsia (a condition that causes high blood pressure) and placenta previa (covering of the opening of the cervix by the placenta) played a decreasing role in preterm births over the study period, whereas gestational and preexisting diabetes played an increasing role. Finally, there was a decline in stillbirths and in neonatal and perinatal deaths among preterm babies, although more babies remained in the hospital longer than 7 days after birth. More specifically, after 28 weeks of gestation, stillbirths and perinatal deaths decreased among medically induced preterm births but not among spontaneous preterm births.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that in Scotland between 1980 and 2004, increases in spontaneous and medically induced preterm births contributed equally to the rising rate of preterm births. Importantly, they also show that the increase in induced preterm births helped to reduce stillbirths and neonatal and perinatal deaths, a finding that supports the criteria that clinicians currently use to decide whether to induce an early birth. Nevertheless, preterm births still account for two-thirds of all stillbirths, neonatal deaths, and extended neonatal stays in hospital and thus cause considerable suffering and greatly increase the workload in neonatal units. The rates of such births consequently need to be reduced and, for Scotland at least, ways will have to be found to reduce the rates of both spontaneous and induced preterm births to achieve this goal while continuing to identify those sick babies who need to be delivered early to give them the best chance of survival.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000153
Tommys is a nonprofit organization that funds research and provides information on the causes and prevention of miscarriage, premature birth, and stillbirth
The March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health, provides information on preterm birth (in English and Spanish)
The Nemours Foundation, another nonprofit organization for child health, also provides information on premature babies (in English and Spanish)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on maternal and infant health (in English and Spanish)
The US National Women's Health Information Center has detailed information about pregnancy, including a section on pregnancy complications
MedlinePlus provides links to other information on premature babies and to information on pregnancy (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000153
PMCID: PMC2740823  PMID: 19771156
2.  Fetal Growth and Risk of Stillbirth: A Population-Based Case–Control Study 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(4):e1001633.
Radek Bukowski and colleagues conducted a case control study in 59 US hospitals to determine the relationship between fetal growth and stillbirth, and find that both restrictive and excessive growth could play a role.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Stillbirth is strongly related to impaired fetal growth. However, the relationship between fetal growth and stillbirth is difficult to determine because of uncertainty in the timing of death and confounding characteristics affecting normal fetal growth.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a population-based case–control study of all stillbirths and a representative sample of live births in 59 hospitals in five geographic areas in the US. Fetal growth abnormalities were categorized as small for gestational age (SGA) (<10th percentile) or large for gestational age (LGA) (>90th percentile) at death (stillbirth) or delivery (live birth) using population, ultrasound, and individualized norms. Gestational age at death was determined using an algorithm that considered the time-of-death interval, postmortem examination, and reliability of the gestational age estimate. Data were weighted to account for the sampling design and differential participation rates in various subgroups. Among 527 singleton stillbirths and 1,821 singleton live births studied, stillbirth was associated with SGA based on population, ultrasound, and individualized norms (odds ratio [OR] [95% CI]: 3.0 [2.2 to 4.0]; 4.7 [3.7 to 5.9]; 4.6 [3.6 to 5.9], respectively). LGA was also associated with increased risk of stillbirth using ultrasound and individualized norms (OR [95% CI]: 3.5 [2.4 to 5.0]; 2.3 [1.7 to 3.1], respectively), but not population norms (OR [95% CI]: 0.6 [0.4 to 1.0]). The associations were stronger with more severe SGA and LGA (<5th and >95th percentile). Analyses adjusted for stillbirth risk factors, subset analyses excluding potential confounders, and analyses in preterm and term pregnancies showed similar patterns of association. In this study 70% of cases and 63% of controls agreed to participate. Analysis weights accounted for differences between consenting and non-consenting women. Some of the characteristics used for individualized fetal growth estimates were missing and were replaced with reference values. However, a sensitivity analysis using individualized norms based on the subset of stillbirths and live births with non-missing variables showed similar findings.
Conclusions
Stillbirth is associated with both growth restriction and excessive fetal growth. These findings suggest that, contrary to current practices and recommendations, stillbirth prevention strategies should focus on both severe SGA and severe LGA pregnancies.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Pregnancy is usually a happy time, when the parents-to-be anticipate the arrival of a new baby. But, sadly, about 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage—the early loss of a fetus (developing baby) that is unable to survive independently. Other pregnancies end in stillbirth—fetal death after 20 weeks of pregnancy (in the US; after 24 weeks in the UK). Stillbirths, like miscarriages, are common. In the US, for example, one in every 160 pregnancies ends in stillbirth. How women discover that their unborn baby has died varies. Some women simply know something is wrong and go to hospital to have their fears confirmed. Others find out when a routine check-up detects no fetal heartbeat. Most women give birth naturally after their baby has died, but if the mother's health is at risk, labor may be induced. Common causes of stillbirth include birth defects and infections. Risk factors for stillbirth include being overweight and smoking during pregnancy.
Why Was This Study Done?
Stillbirths are often associated with having a “small for gestational age” (SGA) fetus. Gestation is the period during which a baby develops in its mother's womb. Gestational age is estimated from the date of the woman's last menstrual period and/or from ultrasound scans. An SGA fetus is lighter than expected for its age based on observed distributions (norms) of fetal weights for gestational age. Although stillbirth is clearly associated with impaired fetal growth, the exact relationship between fetal growth and stillbirth remains unclear for two reasons. First, studies investigating this relationship have used gestational age at delivery rather than gestational age at death as an estimate of fetal age, which overestimates the gestational age of stillbirths and leads to errors in estimates of the proportions of SGA and “large for gestational age” (LGA) stillbirths. Second, many characteristics that affect normal fetal growth are also associated with the risk of stillbirth, and this has not been allowed for in previous studies. In this population-based case–control study, the researchers investigate the fetal growth abnormalities associated with stillbirth using a new approach to estimate gestational age and accounting for the effect of characteristics that affect both fetal growth and stillbirth. A population-based case–control study compares the characteristics of patients with a condition in a population with those of unaffected people in the same population.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers investigated all the stillbirths and a sample of live births that occurred over 2.5 years at 59 hospitals in five US regions. They used a formula developed by the Stillbirth Collaborative Research Network to calculate the gestational age at death of the stillbirths. They categorized fetuses as SGA if they had a weight for gestational age within the bottom 10% (below the 10th percentile) of the population and as LGA if they had a weight for gestational age above the 90th percentile at death (stillbirth) or delivery (live birth) using population, ultrasound, and individualized norms of fetal weight for gestational age. Population norms incorporate weights for gestational age from normal pregnancies and from pregnancies complicated by growth abnormalities, whereas the other two norms include weights for gestational age from normal pregnancies only. Having an SGA fetus was associated with a 3- to 4-fold increased risk of stillbirth compared to having a fetus with “appropriate” weight for gestational age based on all three norms. LGA was associated with an increased risk of stillbirth based on the ultrasound and individualized norms but not the population norms. Being more severely SGA or LGA (below the 5th percentile or above the 95th percentile) was associated with an increased risk of stillbirth.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that, when the time of death is accounted for and norms for weight for gestational age only from uncomplicated pregnancies are used, stillbirth is associated with both restricted and excessive fetal growth. Overall, abnormal fetal growth was identified in 25% of stillbirths using population norms and in about 50% of stillbirths using ultrasound or individualized norms. Although the accuracy of these findings is likely to be affected by aspects of the study design, these findings suggest that, contrary to current practices, strategies designed to prevent stillbirth should focus on identifying both severely SGA and severely LGA fetuses and should use norms for the calculation of weight for gestational age based on normal pregnancies only. Such an approach has the potential to identify almost half of the pregnancies likely to result in stillbirth.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001633.
The March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health, provides information on stillbirth
Tommy's, a UK nonprofit organization that funds research into stillbirth, premature birth, and miscarriage and provides information for parents-to-be, also provides information on stillbirth (including personal stories)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about stillbirth (including a video about dealing with grief after a stillbirth)
MedlinePlus provides links to other resources about stillbirth (in English and Spanish)
Information about the Stillbirth Collaborative Research Network is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001633
PMCID: PMC3995658  PMID: 24755550
3.  Cesarean Section and Rate of Subsequent Stillbirth, Miscarriage, and Ectopic Pregnancy: A Danish Register-Based Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(7):e1001670.
Louise Kenny and colleagues conduct a population-based cohort study in Denmark to assess the likelihood of stillbirth, miscarriage, and ectopic pregnancy following cesarean section compared to women who gave birth by vaginal delivery.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
With cesarean section rates increasing worldwide, clarity regarding negative effects is essential. This study aimed to investigate the rate of subsequent stillbirth, miscarriage, and ectopic pregnancy following primary cesarean section, controlling for confounding by indication.
Methods and Findings
We performed a population-based cohort study using Danish national registry data linking various registers. The cohort included primiparous women with a live birth between January 1, 1982, and December 31, 2010 (n = 832,996), with follow-up until the next event (stillbirth, miscarriage, or ectopic pregnancy) or censoring by live birth, death, emigration, or study end. Cox regression models for all types of cesarean sections, sub-group analyses by type of cesarean, and competing risks analyses for the causes of stillbirth were performed. An increased rate of stillbirth (hazard ratio [HR] 1.14, 95% CI 1.01, 1.28) was found in women with primary cesarean section compared to spontaneous vaginal delivery, giving a theoretical absolute risk increase (ARI) of 0.03% for stillbirth, and a number needed to harm (NNH) of 3,333 women. Analyses by type of cesarean section showed similarly increased rates for emergency (HR 1.15, 95% CI 1.01, 1.31) and elective cesarean (HR 1.11, 95% CI 0.91, 1.35), although not statistically significant in the latter case. An increased rate of ectopic pregnancy was found among women with primary cesarean overall (HR 1.09, 95% CI 1.04, 1.15) and by type (emergency cesarean, HR 1.09, 95% CI 1.03, 1.15, and elective cesarean, HR 1.12, 95% CI 1.03, 1.21), yielding an ARI of 0.1% and a NNH of 1,000 women for ectopic pregnancy. No increased rate of miscarriage was found among women with primary cesarean, with maternally requested cesarean section associated with a decreased rate of miscarriage (HR 0.72, 95% CI 0.60, 0.85). Limitations include incomplete data on maternal body mass index, maternal smoking, fertility treatment, causes of stillbirth, and maternally requested cesarean section, as well as lack of data on antepartum/intrapartum stillbirth and gestational age for stillbirth and miscarriage.
Conclusions
This study found that cesarean section is associated with a small increased rate of subsequent stillbirth and ectopic pregnancy. Underlying medical conditions, however, and confounding by indication for the primary cesarean delivery account for at least part of this increased rate. These findings will assist women and health-care providers to reach more informed decisions regarding mode of delivery.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Globally, increasing numbers of babies are being delivered by cesarean section (a surgical operation in which the baby is delivered through a cut made in the mother's abdomen and womb) instead of naturally through their mother's vagina. In England in 2010, for example, nearly 25% of all babies were delivered by cesarean section (also called C-section) compared to only 2% in the 1950s; in China and some parts of South America cesarean rates are now between 40% and 50%. A cesarean section is usually performed when a vaginal birth would endanger the life of the mother or her unborn child because, for example, the baby is in the wrong position. Some cesareans are performed as emergency procedures, but others are planned in advance when the need for the operation becomes clear during pregnancy (an elective cesarean). Some planned cesarean sections are also undertaken because the mother has requested a cesarean delivery in the absence of any medical reasons for such a delivery.
Why Was This Study Done?
Cesarean sections save lives but do they have any negative impacts on the outcome of subsequent pregnancies? With so many cesarean sections being undertaken, it is important to be sure that the procedure does not increase the rates of subsequent miscarriage, stillbirth, or ectopic pregnancy. Miscarriage—the loss of a fetus (developing baby) that is unable to survive independently—is the commonest complication of early pregnancy, affecting about one in five women who know they are pregnant. Stillbirth is fetal death after about 20–24 weeks of pregnancy; the exact definition of stillbirth varies between countries. About four million stillbirths occur each year worldwide. Ectopic pregnancy—development of the fetus outside the womb—occurs in 1%–2% of all pregnancies. In this population-based cohort study, the researchers investigate the rates of subsequent stillbirth, miscarriage, and ectopic pregnancy following a cesarean section among women living in Denmark. A population-based cohort study determines the baseline characteristics of the individuals in a population, and then follows the population over time to see whether specific characteristics are associated with specific outcomes.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers obtained data for 832,996 women from Danish national registers about their first live birth (including whether they had a cesarean) then followed the women (again using the registers) until they had a stillbirth, miscarriage, or ectopic pregnancy, or a second live birth. The researchers used these data and statistical models to estimate the risk of stillbirth, miscarriage, and ectopic pregnancy following a cesarean compared to a spontaneous vaginal delivery after controlling for the possibility that the cesarean was performed because of an indication that might increase the risk of a subsequent event (confounding). Women who had had a cesarean had a 14% increased risk of a stillbirth in their next pregnancy compared to women who had had a vaginal delivery, corresponding to an absolute risk increase of 0.03%. In other words, 3,333 women would need to have a cesarean to result in one extra stillbirth in subsequent pregnancy (a “number needed to harm” of 3,333). Compared to vaginal delivery, having a cesarean increased the risk of a subsequent ectopic pregnancy by 9% (an absolute risk increase of 0.1% and a number needed to harm of 1,000) but did not increase the rate of subsequent miscarriages.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that, among women living in Denmark, cesarean section is associated with a slightly increased rate of subsequent stillbirth and ectopic pregnancy. Part of this increase can be accounted for by underlying medical conditions and by confounding by the indication for the primary cesarean section. The accuracy of these findings may be affected by limitations in the study such as incomplete data on some factors (for example, the smoking history of the mother) that might have affected the risk of stillbirth, miscarriage, and ectopic pregnancy, and by misclassification or underreporting of the study outcomes. Given the global increase in cesarean rates, these findings suggest that cesarean delivery is not associated with an increased rate of subsequent stillbirth, miscarriage, or ectopic pregnancy, an important finding for both expectant mothers and health-care professionals that nonetheless needs to be confirmed in further large-scale studies. Finally, these findings highlight the need for women to consider all their options thoroughly before requesting a cesarean section on non-medical grounds.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001670.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists provides patient fact sheets on cesarean birth, miscarriage, and ectopic pregnancy
The US-based non-profit Nemours Foundation provides information about cesarean sections, miscarriage and stillbirth, and ectopic pregnancy (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information for patients about cesarean section, miscarriage, stillbirth, and ectopic pregnancy
MedlinePlus provides links to additional resources about cesarean section, miscarriage, stillbirth, and ectopic pregnancy (in English and Spanish)
The UK non-profit organization Healthtalkonline provides personal stories about cesarean delivery, miscarriage, and stillbirth
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001670
PMCID: PMC4077571  PMID: 24983970
4.  Global report on preterm birth and stillbirth (1 of 7): definitions, description of the burden and opportunities to improve data 
BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth  2010;10(Suppl 1):S1.
Introduction
This is the first of seven articles from a preterm birth and stillbirth report. Presented here is an overview of the burden, an assessment of the quality of current estimates, review of trends, and recommendations to improve data.
Preterm birth
Few countries have reliable national preterm birth prevalence data. Globally, an estimated 13 million babies are born before 37 completed weeks of gestation annually. Rates are generally highest in low- and middle-income countries, and increasing in some middle- and high-income countries, particularly the Americas. Preterm birth is the leading direct cause of neonatal death (27%); more than one million preterm newborns die annually. Preterm birth is also the dominant risk factor for neonatal mortality, particularly for deaths due to infections. Long-term impairment is an increasing issue.
Stillbirth
Stillbirths are currently not included in Millennium Development Goal tracking and remain invisible in global policies. For international comparisons, stillbirths include late fetal deaths weighing more than 1000g or occurring after 28 weeks gestation. Only about 2% of all stillbirths are counted through vital registration and global estimates are based on household surveys or modelling. Two global estimation exercises reached a similar estimate of around three million annually; 99% occur in low- and middle-income countries. One million stillbirths occur during birth. Global stillbirth cause-of-death estimates are impeded by multiple, complex classification systems.
Recommendations to improve data
(1) increase the capture and quality of pregnancy outcome data through household surveys, the main data source for countries with 75% of the global burden; (2) increase compliance with standard definitions of gestational age and stillbirth in routine data collection systems; (3) strengthen existing data collection mechanisms—especially vital registration and facility data—by instituting a standard death certificate for stillbirth and neonatal death linked to revised International Classification of Diseases coding; (4) validate a simple, standardized classification system for stillbirth cause-of-death; and (5) improve systems and tools to capture acute morbidity and long-term impairment outcomes following preterm birth.
Conclusion
Lack of adequate data hampers visibility, effective policies, and research. Immediate opportunities exist to improve data tracking and reduce the burden of preterm birth and stillbirth.
doi:10.1186/1471-2393-10-S1-S1
PMCID: PMC2841772  PMID: 20233382
5.  Global report on preterm birth and stillbirth (3 of 7): evidence for effectiveness of interventions 
BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth  2010;10(Suppl 1):S3.
Introduction
Interventions directed toward mothers before and during pregnancy and childbirth may help reduce preterm births and stillbirths. Survival of preterm newborns may also be improved with interventions given during these times or soon after birth. This comprehensive review assesses existing interventions for low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).
Methods
Approximately 2,000 intervention studies were systematically evaluated through December 31, 2008. They addressed preterm birth or low birth weight; stillbirth or perinatal mortality; and management of preterm newborns. Out of 82 identified interventions, 49 were relevant to LMICs and had reasonable amounts of evidence, and therefore selected for in-depth reviews. Each was classified and assessed by the quality of available evidence and its potential to treat or prevent preterm birth and stillbirth. Impacts on other maternal, fetal, newborn or child health outcomes were also considered. Assessments were based on an adaptation of the Grades of Recommendation Assessment, Development and Evaluation criteria.
Results
Most interventions require additional research to improve the quality of evidence. Others had little evidence of benefit and should be discontinued. The following are supported by moderate- to high-quality evidence and strongly recommended for LMICs:
• Two interventions prevent preterm births—smoking cessation and progesterone
• Eight interventions prevent stillbirths—balanced protein energy supplementation, screening and treatment of syphilis, intermittant presumptive treatment for malaria during pregnancy, insecticide-treated mosquito nets, birth preparedness, emergency obstetric care, cesarean section for breech presentation, and elective induction for post-term delivery
• Eleven interventions improve survival of preterm newborns—prophylactic steroids in preterm labor, antibiotics for PROM, vitamin K supplementation at delivery, case management of neonatal sepsis and pneumonia, delayed cord clamping, room air (vs. 100% oxygen) for resuscitation, hospital-based kangaroo mother care, early breastfeeding, thermal care, and surfactant therapy and application of continued distending pressure to the lungs for respiratory distress syndrome
Conclusion
The research paradigm for discovery science and intervention development must be balanced to address prevention as well as improve morbidity and mortality in all settings. This review also reveals significant gaps in current knowledge of interventions spanning the continuum of maternal and fetal outcomes, and the critical need to generate further high-quality evidence for promising interventions.
doi:10.1186/1471-2393-10-S1-S3
PMCID: PMC2841444  PMID: 20233384
6.  The APPLe Study: A Randomized, Community-Based, Placebo-Controlled Trial of Azithromycin for the Prevention of Preterm Birth, with Meta-Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(12):e1000191.
In a randomized trial in Malawi of azithromycin versus placebo in over 2,000 pregnant women, Jim Neilson and colleagues show no benefit of azithromycin for a number of outcomes including preterm birth and prenatal death.
Background
Premature birth is the major cause of perinatal mortality and morbidity in both high- and low-income countries. The causes of preterm labour are multiple but infection is important. We have previously described an unusually high incidence of preterm birth (20%) in an ultrasound-dated, rural, pregnant population in Southern Malawi with high burdens of infective morbidity. We have now studied the impact of routine prophylaxis with azithromycin as directly observed, single-dose therapy at two gestational windows to try to decrease the incidence of preterm birth.
Methods and Findings
We randomized 2,297 pregnant women attending three rural and one peri-urban health centres in Southern Malawi to a placebo-controlled trial of oral azithromycin (1 g) given at 16–24 and 28–32 wk gestation. Gestational age was determined by ultrasound before 24 wk. Women and their infants were followed up until 6 wk post delivery. The primary outcome was incidence of preterm delivery, defined as <37 wk. Secondary outcomes were mean gestational age at delivery, perinatal mortality, birthweight, maternal malaria, and anaemia. Analysis was by intention to treat. There were no significant differences in outcome between the azithromycin group (n = 1,096) and the placebo group (n = 1,087) in respect of preterm birth (16.8% versus 17.4%), odds ratio (OR) 0.96, 95% confidence interval (0.76–1.21); mean gestational age at delivery (38.5 versus 38.4 weeks), mean difference 0.16 (−0.08 to 0.40); mean birthweight (3.03 versus 2.99 kg), mean difference 0.04 (−0.005 to 0.08); perinatal deaths (4.3% versus 5.0%), OR 0.85 (0.53–1.38); or maternal malarial parasitaemia (11.5% versus 10.1%), OR 1.11 (0.84–1.49) and anaemia (44.1% versus 41.3%) at 28–32 weeks, OR 1.07 (0.88–1.30). Meta-analysis of the primary outcome results with seven other studies of routine antibiotic prophylaxis in pregnancy (>6,200 pregnancies) shows no effect on preterm birth (relative risk 1.02, 95% confidence interval 0.86–1.22).
Conclusions
This study provides no support for the use of antibiotics as routine prophylaxis to prevent preterm birth in high risk populations; prevention of preterm birth requires alternative strategies.
Trial registration
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN84023116
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Most pregnancies last about 40 weeks. Labor that occurs before 37 weeks of gestation (the period during which a baby develops in its mother) is defined as a preterm birth. In industrialized countries, 5%–10% of all births are preterm. Figures for preterm births are harder to obtain for low-income countries because of uncertainties about gestational dates but, in both rich and poor countries, preterm birth is a major cause of infant death and illness around the time of birth. Babies who are born prematurely also often have long-term health problems and disabilities. There are many reasons why some babies are born prematurely. Structural problems such as a weak cervix (the neck of the womb, which dilates during labor to allow the baby to leave the mother's body) can result in a premature delivery, as can pregnancy-induced diabetes, blood-clotting disorders, bacterial infections in the vagina or the womb, and malaria. However, it is impossible to predict which mothers will spontaneously deliver early.
Why Was This Study Done?
At present there is no effective way to prevent premature births. Because infection is often associated with preterm labor and can occur early in pregnancy but remain undetected, one way to reduce the incidence of preterm births may be to give pregnant women antibiotics even when they have no obvious infection (prophylactic antibiotics). In this study, the researchers test this hypothesis by giving the antibiotic azithromycin to pregnant women living in Southern Malawi in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. One baby in five is born before 37 weeks gestation in Southern Malawi and the women living in this part of sub-Saharan Africa have a high burden of infection. Azithromycin is a safe antibiotic that can treat many of the bacterial infections that have been implicated in preterm birth. It also has some antimalarial activity. In a randomized, placebo-controlled trial, participants are randomly assigned to receive a drug or identical-looking “dummy” tablets (placebo).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers enrolled more than 2,000 pregnant women into the APPLe study (Azithromycin for the Prevention of Preterm Labor) and determined the gestational age of their unborn babies using ultrasound. Half of the women were given an oral dose of azithromycin at 16–24 weeks and at 28–32 weeks gestation. The remaining women were given a placebo at similar times. The mothers and their babies were followed up until 6 weeks after delivery. There was no significant difference in the primary outcome of the study—the incidence of delivery before 37 weeks gestation—between the two groups of women. Secondary outcomes—including mean gestational age at delivery, mean birth weight, and still births and infant deaths within a week of birth—were also similar in the two groups of women. Finally, the researchers did a meta-analysis (a statistical technique that combines the results of several studies) of their study and seven published studies of routine antibiotic prophylaxis in pregnancy, which indicated that the prophylactic use of antibiotics did not alter the risk of preterm birth.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings provide no support for the use of antibiotics as prophylaxis to prevent preterm birth. The women included in this study had an unusually high incidence of preterm delivery and a high burden of infection so these findings may not be generalizable. The results of the meta-analysis, however, also provide no support for prophylactic antibiotics. Given that observational data have associated infection with preterm labor, why are the results of the APPLe trial and the meta-analysis negative? One possibility is that different antibiotics or dosing regimens might be more effective. Another possibility is that infection might be a secondary consequence of some other condition that causes preterm birth rather than the primary cause of early delivery. Whatever the reason for the lack of effect of prophylactic antibiotics, the researchers recommend that pregnant women should not be given antibiotics prophylactically to prevent preterm birth particularly since, in a recent study, the babies of women given antibiotics to halt ongoing preterm labor had an increased risk of developmental problems.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000191.
The March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health, provides information on preterm birth (in English and Spanish)
The Nemours Foundation, another nonprofit organization for child health, also provides information on premature babies (in English and Spanish)
Tommy's is a nonprofit organization that funds research and provides information on the causes and prevention of miscarriage, premature birth, and stillbirth
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on maternal and infant health (in English and Spanish)
The US National Women's Health Information Center has detailed information about pregnancy (in English and Spanish)
MedlinePlus provides links to other information on premature babies (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000191
PMCID: PMC2776277  PMID: 19956761
7.  Preterm Birth and Childhood Wheezing Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(1):e1001596.
In a systematic review and meta-analysis, Jasper Been and colleagues investigate the association between preterm birth and the development of wheezing disorders in childhood.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Accumulating evidence implicates early life factors in the aetiology of non-communicable diseases, including asthma/wheezing disorders. We undertook a systematic review investigating risks of asthma/wheezing disorders in children born preterm, including the increasing numbers who, as a result of advances in neonatal care, now survive very preterm birth.
Methods and Findings
Two reviewers independently searched seven online databases for contemporaneous (1 January 1995–23 September 2013) epidemiological studies investigating the association between preterm birth and asthma/wheezing disorders. Additional studies were identified through reference and citation searches, and contacting international experts. Quality appraisal was undertaken using the Effective Public Health Practice Project instrument. We pooled unadjusted and adjusted effect estimates using random-effects meta-analysis, investigated “dose–response” associations, and undertook subgroup, sensitivity, and meta-regression analyses to assess the robustness of associations.
We identified 42 eligible studies from six continents. Twelve were excluded for population overlap, leaving 30 unique studies involving 1,543,639 children. Preterm birth was associated with an increased risk of wheezing disorders in unadjusted (13.7% versus 8.3%; odds ratio [OR] 1.71, 95% CI 1.57–1.87; 26 studies including 1,500,916 children) and adjusted analyses (OR 1.46, 95% CI 1.29–1.65; 17 studies including 874,710 children). The risk was particularly high among children born very preterm (<32 wk gestation; unadjusted: OR 3.00, 95% CI 2.61–3.44; adjusted: OR 2.81, 95% CI 2.55–3.12). Findings were most pronounced for studies with low risk of bias and were consistent across sensitivity analyses. The estimated population-attributable risk of preterm birth for childhood wheezing disorders was ≥3.1%.
Key limitations related to the paucity of data from low- and middle-income countries, and risk of residual confounding.
Conclusions
There is compelling evidence that preterm birth—particularly very preterm birth—increases the risk of asthma. Given the projected global increases in children surviving preterm births, research now needs to focus on understanding underlying mechanisms, and then to translate these insights into the development of preventive interventions.
Review Registration
PROSPERO CRD42013004965
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Most pregnancies last around 40 weeks, but worldwide, more than 11% of babies are born before 37 weeks of gestation (the period during which a baby develops in its mother's womb). Preterm birth is a major cause of infant death—more than 1 million babies die annually from preterm birth complications—and the number of preterm births is increasing globally. Multiple pregnancies, infections, and chronic (long-term) maternal conditions such as diabetes can all cause premature birth, but the cause of many preterm births is unknown. The most obvious immediate complication that is associated with preterm birth is respiratory distress syndrome. This breathing problem, which is more common in early preterm babies than in near-term babies, occurs because the lungs of premature babies are structurally immature and lack pulmonary surfactant, a unique mixture of lipids and proteins that coats the inner lining of the lungs and helps to prevent the collapse of the small air sacs in the lungs that absorb oxygen from the air. Consequently, preterm babies often need help with their breathing and oxygen supplementation.
Why Was This Study Done?
Improvements in the management of prematurity mean that more preterm babies survive today than in the past. However, accumulating evidence suggests that early life events are involved in the subsequent development of non-communicable diseases (non-infectious chronic diseases). Given the increasing burden of preterm birth, a better understanding of the long-term effects of preterm birth is essential. Here, the researchers investigate the risks of asthma and wheezing disorders in children who are born preterm by undertaking a systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic) and a meta-analysis (a statistical method for combining the results of several studies). Asthma is a chronic condition that is caused by inflammation of the airways. In people with asthma, the airways can react very strongly to allergens such as animal fur and to irritants such as cigarette smoke. Exercise, cold air, and infections can also trigger asthma attacks, which can sometimes be fatal. The symptoms of asthma include wheezing (a high-pitched whistling sound during breathing), coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Asthma cannot be cured, but drugs can relieve its symptoms and prevent acute asthma attacks.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 30 studies undertaken between 1995 and the present (a time span chosen to allow for recent changes in the management of prematurity) that investigated the association between preterm birth and asthma/wheezing disorders in more than 1.5 million children. Across the studies, 13.7% of preterm babies developed asthma/wheezing disorders during childhood, compared to only 8.3% of babies born at term. Thus, the risk of preterm babies developing asthma or a wheezing disorder during childhood was 1.71 times higher than the risk of term babies developing these conditions (an unadjusted odds ratio [OR] of 1.71). In analyses that allowed for confounding factors—other factors that affect the risk of developing asthma/wheezing disorders such as maternal smoking—the risk of preterm babies developing asthma or a wheezing disorder during childhood was 1.46 times higher than that of babies born at term (an adjusted OR of 1.46). Notably, compared to children born at term, children born very early (before 32 weeks of gestation) had about three times the risk of developing asthma/wheezing disorders in unadjusted and adjusted analyses. Finally, the population-attributable risk of preterm birth for childhood wheezing disorders was more than 3.1%. That is, if no preterm births had occurred, there would have been more than a 3.1% reduction in childhood wheezing disorders.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings strongly suggest that preterm birth increases the risk of asthma and wheezing disorders during childhood and that the risk of asthma/wheezing disorders increases as the degree of prematurity increases. The accuracy of these findings may be affected, however, by residual confounding. That is, preterm children may share other, unknown characteristics that increase their risk of developing asthma/wheezing disorders. Moreover, the generalizability of these findings is limited by the lack of data from low- and middle-income countries. However, given the projected global increases in children surviving preterm births, these findings highlight the need to undertake research into the mechanisms underlying the association between preterm birth and asthma/wheezing disorders and the need to develop appropriate preventative and therapeutic measures.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001596.
The March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health, provides information on preterm birth (in English and Spanish)
Nemours, another nonprofit organization for child health, also provides information (in English and Spanish) on premature babies and on asthma (including personal stories)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about premature labor and birth and a real story about having a preterm baby; it provides information about asthma in children (including real stories)
The MedlinePlus Encyclopedia has pages on preterm birth, asthma, asthma in children, and wheezing (in English and Spanish); MedlinePlus provides links to further information on premature birth, asthma, and asthma in children (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001596
PMCID: PMC3904844  PMID: 24492409
8.  Changes in Association between Previous Therapeutic Abortion and Preterm Birth in Scotland, 1980 to 2008: A Historical Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(7):e1001481.
Gordon C. Smith and colleagues used national databases to investigate the association between previous termination of pregnancy and preterm birth in Scotland between 1980 to 2008, and whether the type of procedure was an important factor.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Numerous studies have demonstrated that therapeutic termination of pregnancy (abortion) is associated with an increased risk of subsequent preterm birth. However, the literature is inconsistent, and methods of abortion have changed dramatically over the last 30 years. We hypothesized that the association between previous abortion and the risk of preterm first birth changed in Scotland between 1 January 1980 and 31 December 2008.
Methods and Findings
We studied linked Scottish national databases of births and perinatal deaths. We analysed the risk of preterm birth in relation to the number of previous abortions in 732,719 first births (≥24 wk), adjusting for maternal characteristics. The risk (adjusted odds ratio [95% CI]) of preterm birth was modelled using logistic regression, and associations were expressed for a one-unit increase in the number of previous abortions. Previous abortion was associated with an increased risk of preterm birth (1.12 [1.09–1.16]). When analysed by year of delivery, the association was strongest in 1980–1983 (1.32 [1.21–1.43]), progressively declined between 1984 and 1999, and was no longer apparent in 2000–2003 (0.98 [0.91–1.05]) or 2004–2008 (1.02 [0.95–1.09]). A statistical test for interaction between previous abortion and year was highly statistically significant (p<0.001). Analysis of data for abortions among nulliparous women in Scotland 1992–2008 demonstrated that the proportion that were surgical without use of cervical pre-treatment decreased from 31% to 0.4%, and that the proportion of medical abortions increased from 18% to 68%.
Conclusions
Previous abortion was a risk factor for spontaneous preterm birth in Scotland in the 1980s and 1990s, but the association progressively weakened and disappeared altogether by 2000. These changes were paralleled by increasing use of medical abortion and cervical pre-treatment prior to surgical abortion. Although it is plausible that the two trends were related, we could not test this directly as the data on the method of prior abortions were not linked to individuals in the cohort. However, we speculate that modernising abortion methods may be an effective long-term strategy to reduce global rates of preterm birth.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Therapeutic termination of pregnancy is relatively common, with an estimated 40 million procedures performed worldwide every year. Until two decades ago, most terminations were performed as a surgical procedure, but now the majority of terminations are medically induced with a combination of drugs—selective progesterone receptor antagonists, such as mifepristone, and prostaglandins—that cause less damage to the woman's cervix. Although surgical terminations are still performed, nowadays prostaglandins are also used to help prevent damage to the cervix. Protecting the woman's cervix can help to reduce the risk of spontaneous preterm birth (delivery before 37 weeks gestation) in subsequent pregnancies. As many women who have abortions go on to have subsequent births, the widespread use of termination may be a significant factor in the high global rates of preterm delivery.
Why Was This Study Done?
A previous meta-analysis (a study that combines information from several studies) showed that the risk of preterm delivery was higher in women who had had a previous termination compared to women who had not. Based on this meta-analysis, UK guidelines on the care of women requesting a termination currently recommend that they be informed of the increased risk of subsequent preterm birth. However, it is biologically plausible that women undergoing medical termination or current practice for surgical termination (using prostaglandins to protect and prepare the cervix) may not have an increased risk of subsequent preterm delivery, because such approaches may cause less trauma to the cervix than traditional surgical termination. So in this study, the researchers used a large dataset from Scotland with three decades of information about previous terminations and subsequent preterm deliveries to test this possibility.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers linked two national databases—the Scottish Morbidity Record 02 (SMR02), which records the clinical and demographic characteristics and outcomes of all patients giving birth in Scottish maternity hospitals, and the Scottish Stillbirth and Infant Death Survey (SSBIDS), which classifies all perinatal deaths in Scotland. SMR02 data were available from 1980 onwards and also recorded each woman's self-reported total number of previous abortions, and SSBIDS data were available from 1985. Then the researchers used information from NHS National Services Scotland to examine secular trends in terminations over the past few decades, specifically, whether a recorded termination was surgical or medical, and also whether surgical abortion was preceded by cervical preparation.
Using these methods, the researchers identified that there were 757,060 live, singleton first births between 1980 and 2008 and that 56,816 women reported one previous termination, 5,790 women reported two previous terminations, and 822 women reported three previous terminations. In their analysis (adjusted for maternal characteristics) the researchers found that there was an independent association of spontaneous preterm birth, but not induced preterm birth, with previous termination. The researchers calculated that the chance (odds) of spontaneous preterm birth for one, two, and three or more previous abortions was 1.17, 1.51, and 1.64, after adjusting for maternal characteristics, including smoking. Over the time period, the researchers found that the proportion of surgical terminations without use of cervical pre-treatment decreased from 31% in 1992 to 0.4% in 2008, and over the same period the proportion of medical terminations increased from 18% to 68%. These trends are important, because in their analysis by year of delivery, the researchers found that the association between preterm delivery and previous termination was strongest in 1980–1983, progressively declined between 1984 and 1999, and was no longer present from 2000 to 2008.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings support the established association between previous termination and preterm delivery. But most importantly, the changes in this association over the past two decades—from strong in 1980–1983 to nonexistent in 2000–2008—a period in which the use of medical termination and pre-treatment of the cervix for surgical termination increased dramatically in Scotland, suggest that surgical termination without cervical pre-treatment is responsible for the increased risk of spontaneous preterm birth: the decrease in the proportion of this procedure over the study period may have led to the disappearance of the established association between previous termination and preterm delivery from 2000 onwards. However, these findings are limited in that the researchers could not directly test whether the two trends were related because they did not have information on the method of previous termination linked to subsequent birth outcome for individual women. However, based on the findings of this study, it is possible that using modern methods of termination of pregnancy (rather than purely surgical methods) could be a factor in reducing global rates of spontaneous preterm delivery in the future.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001481.
Wikipedia gives more information about termination of pregnancy (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
More information is available about the SMR02 dataset used in this study
The World Health Organization gives information on preterm birth
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001481
PMCID: PMC3706322  PMID: 23874161
9.  Prevalence and perinatal mortality associated with preterm births in a tertiary medical center in South East Nigeria 
Background
Preterm birth is a high risk condition associated with significant mortality and morbidity in the perinatal, neonatal, and childhood periods, and even in adulthood. Knowledge of the epidemiology of preterm births is necessary for planning appropriate maternal and fetal care.
Objective
The objective of this study was to determine the prevalence, pattern, and perinatal mortality associated with preterm births at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu, South East Nigeria.
Methods
This was a review of prospectively collected routine delivery data involving preterm deliveries that occurred between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2013. Data analysis involved descriptive and inferential statistics at 95% level of confidence using SPSS version 17.0 for Windows.
Results
There were 3,760 live births over the 5-year study period out of which 636 were preterm births, giving a prevalence rate of 16.9%. Spontaneous preterm births occurred in approximately 57% of preterm births while provider-initiated births occurred in 43%. The mean gestational age at preterm deliveries was 32.6±3.2 weeks while the mean birth weight was 2.0±0.8 kilograms. Approximately 89% of preterm births involved singleton pregnancies. Sixty-eight percent of preterm births were moderate to late preterm. The male:female ratio of preterm babies born during the period was 1.2:1. The adjusted perinatal mortality rate for preterm babies in the study center was 46.1% (236/512). The stillbirth rate for preterm babies was 22.0% (149/678) and the adjusted early neonatal death rate was 24.0% (87/363).
Conclusion
The prevalence of preterm births and associated perinatal mortality were high which may be a reflection of suboptimal prenatal and newborn care. An urgent improvement in prenatal and newborn care is therefore needed in the study center in order to improve the capacity to prevent or abate preterm labor, and preterm premature rupture of membranes; and to reduce avoidable stillbirths. Further upgrading of personnel and facilities in the newborn special care unit is also required to minimize early neonatal deaths.
doi:10.2147/IJWH.S72229
PMCID: PMC4207576  PMID: 25378955
preterm birth; prevalence; mortality; pattern; Nigeria
10.  Post-neonatal Mortality, Morbidity, and Developmental Outcome after Ultrasound-Dated Preterm Birth in Rural Malawi: A Community-Based Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(11):e1001121.
Using data collected as a follow-up to a randomized trial, Melissa Gladstone and colleagues show that during the first two years of life, infants born preterm in southern Malawi are disadvantaged in terms of mortality, growth, and development.
Background
Preterm birth is considered to be associated with an estimated 27% of neonatal deaths, the majority in resource-poor countries where rates of prematurity are high. There is no information on medium term outcomes after accurately determined preterm birth in such settings.
Methods and Findings
This community-based stratified cohort study conducted between May–December 2006 in Southern Malawi followed up 840 post-neonatal infants born to mothers who had received antenatal antibiotic prophylaxis/placebo in an attempt to reduce rates of preterm birth (APPLe trial ISRCTN84023116). Gestational age at delivery was based on ultrasound measurement of fetal bi-parietal diameter in early-mid pregnancy. 247 infants born before 37 wk gestation and 593 term infants were assessed at 12, 18, or 24 months. We assessed survival (death), morbidity (reported by carer, admissions, out-patient attendance), growth (weight and height), and development (Ten Question Questionnaire [TQQ] and Malawi Developmental Assessment Tool [MDAT]). Preterm infants were at significantly greater risk of death (hazard ratio 1.79, 95% CI 1.09–2.95). Surviving preterm infants were more likely to be underweight (weight-for-age z score; p<0.001) or wasted (weight-for-length z score; p<0.01) with no effect of gestational age at delivery. Preterm infants more often screened positively for disability on the Ten Question Questionnaire (p = 0.002). They also had higher rates of developmental delay on the MDAT at 18 months (p = 0.009), with gestational age at delivery (p = 0.01) increasing this likelihood. Morbidity—visits to a health centre (93%) and admissions to hospital (22%)—was similar for both groups.
Conclusions
During the first 2 years of life, infants who are born preterm in resource poor countries, continue to be at a disadvantage in terms of mortality, growth, and development. In addition to interventions in the immediate neonatal period, a refocus on early childhood is needed to improve outcomes for infants born preterm in low-income settings.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Being born at term in Africa is not necessarily straightforward. In Malawi, 33 of every 1,000 infants born die in the first 28 days after birth; the lifetime risk for a mother dying during or shortly after pregnancy is one in 36. The comparable figures for the United Kingdom are three infants dying per 1,000 births and a lifetime risk of maternal death of one in 4,700. But for a baby, being born preterm is even more risky and the gap between low- and high-income countries widens still further. According to a World Health Organization report in 2010, a baby born at 32 weeks of gestation (weighing around 2,000 g) in Africa has little chance of survival, while the chances of survival for a baby born at 32 weeks in North America or Europe are similar to one born at term. There are very few data on the longer term outcomes of babies born preterm in Africa and there are multiple challenges involved in gathering such information. As prenatal ultrasound is not routinely available, gestational age is often uncertain. There may be little routine follow-up of preterm babies as is commonplace in high-income countries. Data are needed from recent years that take into account both improvements in perinatal care and adverse factors such as a rising number of infants becoming HIV positive around the time of birth.
Why Was This Study Done?
We could improve outcomes for babies born preterm in sub-Saharan Africa if we understood more about what happens to them after birth. We cannot assume that the progress of these babies will be the same as those born preterm in a high-income country, as the latter group will have received different care, both before and after birth. If we can document the problems that these preterm babies face in a low-income setting, we can consider why they happen and what treatments can be realistically tested in this setting. It is also helpful to establish baseline data so that changes over time can be recorded.
The aim of this study was to document four specific outcomes up to the age of two years, on which there were few data previously from rural sub-Saharan Africa: how many babies survived, visits to a health center and admissions to the hospital, growth, and developmental delay.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers examined a group of babies that had been born to mothers who had taken part in a randomized controlled trial of an antibiotic to prevent preterm birth. The trial had previously shown that the antibiotic (azithromycin) had no effect on how many babies were born preterm or on other measures of the infants' wellbeing, and so the researchers followed up babies from both arms of the trial to look at longer term outcomes. From the original group of 2,297 women who took part in the trial, they compared 247 infants born preterm against 593 term infants randomly chosen as controls, assessed at 12, 18, or 24 months. The majority of the preterm babies who survived past a month of age (all but ten) were born after 32 weeks of gestation. Compared to the babies born at term, the infants born preterm were nearly twice as likely to die subsequently in the next two years, were more likely to be underweight (a third were moderately underweight), and to have higher rates of developmental delay. The commonest causes of death were gastroenteritis, respiratory problems, and malaria. Visits to a health center and admissions to hospital were similar in both groups.
What Do these Findings Mean?
This study documents longer term outcomes of babies born preterm in sub-Saharan Africa in detail for the first time. The strengths of the study include prenatal ultrasound dating and correct adjustment of follow-up age (which takes into account being born before term). Because the researchers defined morbidity using routine health center attendances and self-report of illnesses by parents, this outcome does not seem to have been as useful as the others in differentiating between the preterm and term babies. Better means of measuring morbidity are needed in this setting.
In the developed world, there is considerable investment being made to improve care during pregnancy and in the neonatal period. This investment in care may help by predicting which mothers are more likely to give birth early and preventing preterm birth through drug or other treatments. It is to be hoped that some of the benefit will be transferable to low-income countries. A baby born at 26 weeks' gestation and admitted to a neonatal unit in the United Kingdom has a 67% chance of survival; preterm babies born in sub-Saharan Africa face a starkly contrasting future.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001121.
UNICEF presents useful statistics on mother and child outcomes
The World Health Organization has attempted to analyse preterm birth rates worldwide, including mapping the regional distribution and has also produced practical guides on strategies such as Kangaroo Mother Care, which can be used for the care of preterm infants in low resource settings
Healthy Newborn Network has good information on initiatives taking place to improve neonatal outcomes in low income settings
The March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health, provides information on research being conducted into preterm birth
Tommy's is a nonprofit organization that funds research and provides information on the risks and causes of premature birth
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001121
PMCID: PMC3210771  PMID: 22087079
11.  Group B Streptococcal Infection of the Choriodecidua Induces Dysfunction of the Cytokeratin Network in Amniotic Epithelium: A Pathway to Membrane Weakening 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(3):e1003920.
Early events leading to intrauterine infection remain poorly defined, but may hold the key to preventing preterm delivery. To determine molecular pathways within fetal membranes (chorioamnion) associated with early choriodecidual infection that may progress to preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM), we examined the effects of a Group B Streptococcus (GBS) choriodecidual infection on chorioamnion in a nonhuman primate model. Ten chronically catheterized pregnant monkeys (Macaca nemestrina) at 118–125 days gestation (term = 172 days) received choriodecidual inoculation of either GBS (n = 5) or saline (n = 5). Cesarean section was performed in the first week after GBS or saline inoculation. RNA extracted from chorioamnion (inoculation site) was profiled by microarray. Single gene, Gene Set, and Ingenuity Pathway Analysis results were validated using qRT-PCR (chorioamnion), Luminex (amniotic fluid, AF), immunohistochemistry, and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Despite uterine quiescence in most cases, significant elevations of AF cytokines (TNF-α, IL-8, IL-1β, IL-6) were detected in GBS versus controls (p<0.05). Choriodecidual infection resolved by the time of cesarean section in 3 of 5 cases and GBS was undetectable by culture and PCR in the AF. A total of 331 genes were differentially expressed (>2-fold change, p<0.05). Remarkably, GBS exposure was associated with significantly downregulated expression of multiple cytokeratin (CK) and other cytoskeletal genes critical for maintenance of tissue tensile strength. Immunofluorescence revealed highly significant changes in the CK network within amniocytes with dense CK aggregates and retraction from the cell periphery (all p = 0.006). In human pregnancies affected by PPROM, there was further evidence of CK network retraction with significantly shorter amniocyte foot processes (p = 0.002). These results suggest early choriodecidual infection results in decreased cellular membrane integrity and tensile strength via dysfunction of CK networks. Downregulation of CK expression and perturbations in the amniotic epithelial cell intermediate filament network occur after GBS choriodecidual infection, which may contribute to PPROM.
Author Summary
Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is one cause of preterm birth, stillbirth, and fetal brain injury. GBS is present in the vagina and is thought to ascend into the uterus of some women where it can cause placental inflammation and preterm birth. Understanding the earliest events in the placenta that lead to preterm birth is elusive in humans, because the placenta cannot be studied until after birth. Here, we use a nonhuman primate model to show that an early GBS infection can damage the structural support of the fetal membranes, specifically the cytokeratin network in the epithelium of the amnion (one part of the membranes). Next, we obtained human placentas to show that this cytokeratin network was also damaged in human patients that had preterm premature rupture of the membranes, a major cause of preterm birth. Our work is important in understanding why fetal membranes may rupture prematurely, which may lead to early interventions to prevent membrane damage after placental infection and preterm birth.
doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1003920
PMCID: PMC3946355  PMID: 24603861
12.  Community Mobilization in Mumbai Slums to Improve Perinatal Care and Outcomes: A Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(7):e1001257.
David Osrin and colleagues report findings from a cluster-randomized trial conducted in Mumbai slums; the trial aimed to evaluate whether facilitator-supported women's groups could improve perinatal outcomes.
Introduction
Improving maternal and newborn health in low-income settings requires both health service and community action. Previous community initiatives have been predominantly rural, but India is urbanizing. While working to improve health service quality, we tested an intervention in which urban slum-dweller women's groups worked to improve local perinatal health.
Methods and Findings
A cluster randomized controlled trial in 24 intervention and 24 control settlements covered a population of 283,000. In each intervention cluster, a facilitator supported women's groups through an action learning cycle in which they discussed perinatal experiences, improved their knowledge, and took local action. We monitored births, stillbirths, and neonatal deaths, and interviewed mothers at 6 weeks postpartum. The primary outcomes described perinatal care, maternal morbidity, and extended perinatal mortality. The analysis included 18,197 births over 3 years from 2006 to 2009. We found no differences between trial arms in uptake of antenatal care, reported work, rest, and diet in later pregnancy, institutional delivery, early and exclusive breastfeeding, or care-seeking. The stillbirth rate was non-significantly lower in the intervention arm (odds ratio 0.86, 95% CI 0.60–1.22), and the neonatal mortality rate higher (1.48, 1.06–2.08). The extended perinatal mortality rate did not differ between arms (1.19, 0.90–1.57). We have no evidence that these differences could be explained by the intervention.
Conclusions
Facilitating urban community groups was feasible, and there was evidence of behaviour change, but we did not see population-level effects on health care or mortality. In cities with multiple sources of health care, but inequitable access to services, community mobilization should be integrated with attempts to deliver services for the poorest and most vulnerable, and with initiatives to improve quality of care in both public and private sectors.
Trial registration
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN96256793
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Substantial progress is being made to reduce global child mortality (deaths of children before the age of 5 years) and maternal mortality (deaths among women because of complications of pregnancy and childbirth)—two of the Millennium Development Goals agreed by world leaders in 2000 to end extreme poverty. Even so, worldwide, in 2010, 7.6 million children died before their fifth birthday and there were nearly 360,000 maternal deaths. Almost all child and maternal deaths occur in developing countries—a fifth of under-five deaths and more than a quarter of neonatal deaths (deaths during the first month of life, which account for two-fifths of all child deaths) occur in India alone. Moreover, most child and maternal deaths are caused by avoidable conditions. Specifically, the major causes of neonatal death—complications of preterm delivery, breathing problems during or after delivery, and infections of the blood (sepsis) and lungs (pneumonia)—and of maternal deaths—hemorrhage (abnormal bleeding), sepsis, unsafe abortion, obstructed labor, and hypertensive diseases of pregnancy—could all be largely prevented by improved access to reproductive health services and skilled health care workers.
Why Was This Study Done?
Experts believe that improvements to maternal and newborn health in low-income settings require both health service strengthening and community action. That is, the demand for better services, driven by improved knowledge about maternal and newborn health (perinatal issues), has to be increased in parallel with the supply of those services. To date, community mobilization around perinatal issues has largely been undertaken in rural settings but populations in developing countries are becoming increasingly urban. In India, for example, 30% of the population now lives in cities. In this cluster randomized controlled trial (a study in which groups of people are randomly assigned to receive alternative interventions and the outcomes in the differently treated “clusters” are compared), City Initiative for Newborn Health (CINH) researchers investigate the effect of an intervention designed to help women's groups in the slums of Mumbai work towards improving local perinatal health. The CINH aims to improve maternal and newborn health in slum communities by improving public health care provision and by working with community members to improve maternal and newborn care practices and care-seeking behaviors.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers enrolled 48 Mumbai slum communities of at least 1,000 households into their trial. In each of the 24 intervention clusters, a facilitator supported local women's groups through a 36-meeting learning cycle during which group members discussed their perinatal experiences, improved their knowledge, and took action. To measure the effect of the intervention, the researchers monitored births, stillbirths, and neonatal deaths in all the clusters and interviewed mothers 6 weeks after delivery. During the 3-year trial, there were 18,197 births in the participating settlements. The women in the intervention clusters were enthusiastic about acquiring new knowledge and made substantial efforts to reach out to other women but were less successful in undertaking collective action such as negotiations with civic authorities for more amenities. There were no differences between the intervention and control communities in the uptake of antenatal care, reported work, rest, and diet in late pregnancy, institutional delivery, or in breast feeding and care-seeking behavior. Finally, the combined rate of stillbirths and neonatal deaths (the extended perinatal mortality rate) was the same in both arms of the trial, as was maternal mortality.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that it is possible to facilitate the discussion of perinatal health care by urban women's groups in the challenging conditions that exist in the slums of Mumbai. However, they fail to show any measureable effect of community mobilization through the facilitation of women's groups on perinatal health at the population level. The researchers acknowledge that more intensive community activities that target the poorest, most vulnerable slum dwellers might produce measurable effects on perinatal mortality, and they conclude that, in cities with multiple sources of health care and inequitable access to services, it remains important to integrate community mobilization with attempts to deliver services to the poorest and most vulnerable, and with initiatives to improve the quality of health care in both the public and private sector.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001257.
The United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) works for children's rights, survival, development, and protection around the world; it provides information on the reduction of child mortality (Millennium Development Goal 4); its Childinfo website provides information about all the Millennium Development Goals and detailed statistics about on child survival and health, newborn care, and maternal health (some information in several languages)
The World Health Organization also has information about Millennium Development Goal 4 and Millennium Development Goal 5, the reduction of maternal mortality, provides information on newborn infants, and provides estimates of child mortality rates (some information in several languages)
Further information about the Millennium Development Goals is available
Information on the City Initiative for Newborn Health and its partners and a detailed description of its trial of community mobilization in Mumbai slums to improve care during pregnancy, delivery, postnatally and for the newborn are available
Further information about the Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action (SNEHA) is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001257
PMCID: PMC3389036  PMID: 22802737
13.  Born Too Soon: Care during pregnancy and childbirth to reduce preterm deliveries and improve health outcomes of the preterm baby 
Reproductive Health  2013;10(Suppl 1):S4.
Abstract
Pregnancy and childbirth represent a critical time period when a woman can be reached through a variety of mechanisms with interventions aimed at reducing her risk of a preterm birth and improving her health and the health of her unborn baby. These mechanisms include the range of services delivered during antenatal care for all pregnant women and women at high risk of preterm birth, services provided to manage preterm labour, and workplace, professional and other supportive policies that promote safe motherhood and universal access to care before, during and after pregnancy. The aim of this paper is to present the latest information about available interventions that can be delivered during pregnancy to reduce preterm birth rates and improve the health outcomes of the premature baby, and to identify data gaps. The paper also focuses on promising avenues of research on the pregnancy period that will contribute to a better understanding of the causes of preterm birth and ability to design interventions at the policy, health care system and community levels. At minimum, countries need to ensure equitable access to comprehensive antenatal care, quality childbirth services and emergency obstetric care. Antenatal care services should include screening for and management of women at high risk of preterm birth, screening for and treatment of infections, and nutritional support and counselling. Health workers need to be trained and equipped to provide effective and timely clinical management of women in preterm labour to improve the survival chances of the preterm baby. Implementation strategies must be developed to increase the uptake by providers of proven interventions such as antenatal corticosteroids and to reduce harmful practices such as non-medically indicated inductions of labour and caesarean births before 39 weeks of gestation. Behavioural and community-based interventions that can lead to reductions in smoking and violence against women need to be implemented in conjunction with antenatal care models that promote women's empowerment as a strategy for reducing preterm delivery. The global community needs to support more discovery research on normal and abnormal pregnancies to facilitate the development of preventive interventions for universal application. As new evidence is generated, resources need to be allocated to its translation into new and better screening and diagnostic tools, and other interventions aimed at saving maternal and newborn lives that can be brought to scale in all countries.
Declaration
This article is part of a supplement jointly funded by Save the Children's Saving Newborn Lives programme through a grant from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and March of Dimes Foundation and published in collaboration with the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and the World Health Organization (WHO). The original article was published in PDF format in the WHO Report "Born Too Soon: the global action report on preterm birth" (ISBN 978 92 4 150343 30), which involved collaboration from more than 50 organizations. The article has been reformatted for journal publication and has undergone peer review according to Reproductive Health's standard process for supplements and may feature some variations in content when compared to the original report. This co-publication makes the article available to the community in a full-text format.
doi:10.1186/1742-4755-10-S1-S4
PMCID: PMC3842748  PMID: 24625215
14.  Global report on preterm birth and stillbirth (6 of 7): ethical considerations 
BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth  2010;10(Suppl 1):S6.
Introduction
Despite the substantial global burden of preterm and stillbirth, little attention has been given to the ethical considerations related to research and interventions in the global context. Ethical dilemmas surrounding reproductive decisions and the care of preterm newborns impact the delivery of interventions, and are not well understood in low-resource settings. Issues such as how to address the moral and cultural attitudes surrounding stillbirths, have cross-cutting implications for global visibility of the disease burden. This analysis identifies ethical issues impacting definitions, discovery, development, and delivery of effective interventions to decrease the global burden of preterm birth and stillbirth.
Methods
This review is based on a comprehensive literature review; an ethical analysis of other articles within this global report; and discussions with GAPPS's Scientific Advisory Council, team of international investigators, and a community of international experts on maternal, newborn, and child health and bioethics from the 2009 International Conference on Prematurity and Stillbirth. The literature review includes articles in PubMed, Academic Search Complete (EBSCO), and Philosopher's Index with a range of 1995-2008.
Results
Advancements in discovery science relating to preterm birth and stillbirth require careful consideration in the design and use of repositories containing maternal specimens and data. Equally important is the need to improve clinical translation from basic science research to delivery of interventions, and to ensure global needs inform discovery science agenda-setting. Ethical issues in the development of interventions include a need to balance immediate versus long-term impacts—such as caring for preterm newborns rather than preventing preterm births. The delivery of interventions must address: women's health disparities as determinants of preterm birth and stillbirth; improving measurements of impact on equity in coverage; balancing maternal and newborn outcomes in choosing interventions; and understanding the personal and cross-cultural experiences of preterm birth and stillbirth among women, families and communities.
Conclusion
Efforts to improve visibility, funding, research and the successful delivery of interventions for preterm birth and stillbirth face a number of ethical concerns. Thoughtful input from those in health policy, bioethics and international research ethics helped shape an interdisciplinary global action agenda to prevent preterm birth and stillbirth.
doi:10.1186/1471-2393-10-S1-S6
PMCID: PMC2841776  PMID: 20233387
15.  Born Too Soon: The global epidemiology of 15 million preterm births 
Reproductive Health  2013;10(Suppl 1):S2.
This second paper in the Born Too Soon supplement presents a review of the epidemiology of preterm birth, and its burden globally, including priorities for action to improve the data. Worldwide an estimated 11.1% of all livebirths in 2010 were born preterm (14.9 million babies born before 37 weeks of gestation), with preterm birth rates increasing in most countries with reliable trend data. Direct complications of preterm birth account for one million deaths each year, and preterm birth is a risk factor in over 50% of all neonatal deaths. In addition, preterm birth can result in a range of long-term complications in survivors, with the frequency and severity of adverse outcomes rising with decreasing gestational age and decreasing quality of care. The economic costs of preterm birth are large in terms of immediate neonatal intensive care, ongoing long-term complex health needs, as well as lost economic productivity. Preterm birth is a syndrome with a variety of causes and underlying factors usually divided into spontaneous and provider-initiated preterm births. Consistent recording of all pregnancy outcomes, including stillbirths, and standard application of preterm definitions is important in all settings to advance both the understanding and the monitoring of trends. Context specific innovative solutions to prevent preterm birth and hence reduce preterm birth rates all around the world are urgently needed. Strengthened data systems are required to adequately track trends in preterm birth rates and program effectiveness. These efforts must be coupled with action now to implement improved antenatal, obstetric and newborn care to increase survival and reduce disability amongst those born too soon.
Declaration
This article is part of a supplement jointly funded by Save the Children's Saving Newborn Lives programme through a grant from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and March of Dimes Foundation and published in collaboration with the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and the World Health Organization (WHO). The original article was published in PDF format in the WHO Report "Born Too Soon: the global action report on preterm birth" (ISBN 978 92 4 150343 30), which involved collaboration from more than 50 organizations. The article has been reformatted for journal publication and has undergone peer review according to Reproductive Health's standard process for supplements and may feature some variations in content when compared to the original report. This co-publication makes the article available to the community in a full-text format.
doi:10.1186/1742-4755-10-S1-S2
PMCID: PMC3828585  PMID: 24625129
Preterm birth; epidemiology; neonatal mortality
16.  Preconceptional Folate Supplementation and the Risk of Spontaneous Preterm Birth: A Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(5):e1000061.
In an analysis of a cohort of pregnant women, Radek Bukowski and colleagues describe an association between taking folic acid supplements and a reduction in the risk of preterm birth.
Background
Low plasma folate concentrations in pregnancy are associated with preterm birth. Here we show an association between preconceptional folate supplementation and the risk of spontaneous preterm birth.
Methods and Findings
In a cohort of 34,480 low-risk singleton pregnancies enrolled in a study of aneuploidy risk, preconceptional folate supplementation was prospectively recorded in the first trimester of pregnancy. Duration of pregnancy was estimated based on first trimester ultrasound examination. Natural length of pregnancy was defined as gestational age at delivery in pregnancies with no medical or obstetrical complications that may have constituted an indication for delivery. Spontaneous preterm birth was defined as duration of pregnancy between 20 and 37 wk without those complications. The association between preconceptional folate supplementation and the risk of spontaneous preterm birth was evaluated using survival analysis. Comparing to no supplementation, preconceptional folate supplementation for 1 y or longer was associated with a 70% decrease in the risk of spontaneous preterm delivery between 20 and 28 wk (41 [0.27%] versus 4 [0.04%] spontaneous preterm births, respectively; HR 0.22, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.08–0.61, p = 0.004) and a 50% decrease in the risk of spontaneous preterm delivery between 28 and 32 wk (58 [0.38%] versus 12 [0.18%] preterm birth, respectively; HR 0.45, 95% CI 0.24–0.83, p = 0.010). Adjustment for maternal characteristics age, race, body mass index, education, marital status, smoking, parity, and history of prior preterm birth did not have a material effect on the association between folate supplementation for 1 y or longer and spontaneous preterm birth between 20 and 28, and 28 to 32 wk (adjusted HR 0.31, 95% CI 0.11–0.90, p = 0.031 and 0.53, 0.28–0.99, p = 0.046, respectively). Preconceptional folate supplementation was not significantly associated with the risk of spontaneous preterm birth beyond 32 wk. The association between shorter duration (<1 y) of preconceptional folate supplementation and the risk of spontaneous preterm birth was not significant after adjustment for maternal characteristics. However, the risk of spontaneous preterm birth decreased with the duration of preconceptional folate supplementation (test for trend of survivor functions, p = 0.01) and was the lowest in women who used folate supplementation for 1 y or longer. There was also no significant association with other complications of pregnancy studied after adjustment for maternal characteristics.
Conclusions
Preconceptional folate supplementation is associated with a 50%–70% reduction in the incidence of early spontaneous preterm birth. The risk of early spontaneous preterm birth is inversely proportional to the duration of preconceptional folate supplementation. Preconceptional folate supplementation was specifically related to early spontaneous preterm birth and not associated with other complications of pregnancy.
Editors' Summary
Background
Most pregnancies last about 40 weeks, but sometimes the new family member arrives early. Every year, half a million babies in the United States (12.5% of all babies) are born prematurely (before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy). Sadly, premature babies are more likely to die than full-term babies and many have short- and/or long-term health problems. Premature babies often have breathing problems, they are susceptible to life-threatening infections, and they are more likely to have learning and developmental disabilities than those born on time. The severity of these health problems depends on the degree of prematurity—preterm babies born between 34 and 36 weeks of pregnancy rarely develop severe disabilities, but a quarter of babies born before 28 weeks of pregnancy develop serious lasting disabilities and half have learning and behavioral problems. Although doctors have identified some risk factors for early delivery (for example, smoking), it is impossible to predict who will have an early birth and there is no effective way to prevent preterm births.
Why Was This Study Done?
Some researchers think that folate supplements may prevent preterm births. Folate (folic acid), a vitamin found in leafy green vegetables, fruits, and dried beans, helps to prevent neural tube birth defects. Consequently, women are encouraged to take folic acid supplements throughout (and preferably before) pregnancy and many governments now mandate that bread, pasta, and other grain products be fortified with folic acid to help women get sufficient folate. There is some evidence that women who deliver early have less folate in their blood than women who deliver at term. Furthermore, folate supplementation during pregnancy has increased the length of pregnancy in some but not all clinical trials. A possible explanation for these mixed results is that the duration of pregnancy reflects conditions in the earliest stages of pregnancy or before conception and that folate supplementation needs to start before conception to reduce the risk of preterm birth. In this study, the researchers test this idea by analyzing data collected from nearly 35,000 pregnant women enrolled in a study that was originally designed to investigate screening for Down's syndrome.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
During the first three months of their pregnancy, the women were asked whether they had taken folate supplements before conception. The duration of each pregnancy was estimated from ultrasound measurements taken early in the pregnancy and from the time of delivery. During the study, 1,658 women had spontaneous preterm deliveries before 37 weeks and 160 delivered before 32 weeks. After allowing for other maternal characteristics that might have affected the likelihood of preterm delivery, the risk of spontaneous preterm delivery between 20 and 28 weeks was 70% lower in women who took folate supplements for more than a year before becoming pregnant than in women who didn't take a supplement. Long-term folate supplementation also reduced the risk of preterm delivery between 28 and 32 weeks by 50% but did not affect the risk of preterm birth beyond 32 weeks. Folate supplementation for less than a year before conception did not reduce the risk of preterm birth, and folate supplementation was not associated with any other complications of pregnancy.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that folate supplementation for a year or more before conception is associated with a 50%–70% decrease in early (but not late) spontaneous preterm births and that the longer a woman takes folate supplements before becoming pregnant, the lower her risk of a preterm birth. Although the researchers allowed for maternal characteristics that might have affected the duration of pregnancy, it is possible that folate supplementation may not be responsible for the reduction in preterm birth risk seen in this study. For example, taking folate supplements may be a marker of healthy behavior and the women taking the supplements might have been doing something else that was reducing their risk of preterm birth. However, despite this and other limitations of this study, these findings suggest that long-term folate supplementation before conception is worth investigating further as a potential way to prevent preterm births.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000061.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Nicholas Fisk
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia contains a page on premature babies (in English and Spanish); MedlinePlus provides links to other information on premature babies (in English and Spanish)
The US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development provides information on preterm labor and birth
The March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health, provides information on preterm birth and on folic acid (in English and Spanish)
The Nemours Foundation, another nonprofit organization for child health, also provides information on premature babies (in English and Spanish)
The US Office of Dietary Supplements has a fact sheet on folate
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000061
PMCID: PMC2671168  PMID: 19434228
17.  Evidence to support that spontaneous preterm labor is adaptive in nature: neonatal RDS is more common in “indicated” than in “spontaneous” preterm birth 
Journal of perinatal medicine  2009;37(1):53-58.
Objectives
The onset of preterm labor has been proposed to have survival value and to be adaptive in nature. This hypothesis would predict that induced preterm birth may be associated with higher rates of complications than spontaneous preterm birth. The purpose of this study was to determine if there is a difference in the frequency of neonatal respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), the most common neonatal complication, according to the etiology of preterm birth (e.g. preterm labor [PTL], preterm PROM, or pregnancies which ended because of maternal-fetal indications).
Study design
The relationship between the occurrence of RDS and the obstetrical circumstances leading to preterm birth was examined in 257 consecutive singleton preterm births (gestational age: 24-32 weeks). Cases with major congenital anomalies were excluded. The study population was divided into two groups according to the cause of preterm birth: 1) preterm birth due to PTL with intact membranes or preterm PROM (spontaneous preterm birth group); and 2) preterm birth due to maternal or fetal indications (indicated preterm birth group).
Results
1) RDS was diagnosed in 47% of cases; 2) RDS was more common in patients with indicated preterm birth than in those with spontaneous preterm birth group (58.1% vs. 38.4%, p=.002); 3) Patients with indicated preterm birth had a significantly higher mean gestational age at birth, but lower mean birth weight, lower rate of histological chorioamnionitis and higher rates of cesarean delivery, 5 min Apgar score of <7, and umbilical arterial blood pH of <7.15 than those with spontaneous preterm birth (p<0.05 for each); 4) Antenatal corticosteroids were used in 73.4% of cases with indicated preterm birth and in 76.9% of those with spontaneous preterm birth; 5) Multivariate analysis demonstrated that indicated preterm birth was associated with an increased risk of RDS after adjustment for confounding variables (OR=2.29, 95% CI 1.22-4.29).
Conclusions
1) The rate of RDS is greater following “indicated” rather than spontaneous preterm birth; 2) This observation supports the view that spontaneous preterm labor is adaptive in nature.
doi:10.1515/JPM.2009.036
PMCID: PMC2887663  PMID: 19099368
Indicated preterm birth; neonatal respiratory distress syndrome (RDS); spontaneous preterm birth
18.  Analysis of preterm deliveries below 35 weeks' gestation in a tertiary referral hospital in the UK. A case-control survey 
BMC Research Notes  2010;3:119.
Background
Preterm birth remains a major public health problem and its incidence worldwide is increasing. Epidemiological risk factors have been investigated in the past, but there is a need for a better understanding of the causes of preterm birth in well defined obstetric populations in tertiary referral centres; it is important to repeat surveillance and identify possible changes in clinical and socioeconomic factors associated with preterm delivery. The aim of this study was to identify current risk factors associated with preterm delivery and highlight areas for further research.
Findings
We studied women with singleton deliveries at St Michael's Hospital, Bristol during 2002 and 2003. 274 deliveries between 23-35 weeks' gestation (preterm group), were compared to 559 randomly selected control deliveries at term (37-42 weeks) using standard statistical procedures. Both groups were >80% Caucasian. Previous preterm deliveries, high maternal age (> 39 years), socioeconomic problems, smoking during pregnancy, hypertension, psychiatric disorders and uterine abnormalities were significantly associated with preterm deliveries. Both lean and obese mothers were more common in the preterm group. Women with depression/psychiatric disease were significantly more likely to have social problems, to have smoked during pregnancy and to have had previous preterm deliveries; when adjustments for these three factors were made the relationship between psychiatric disease and pregnancy outcome was no longer significant. 53% of preterm deliveries were spontaneous, and were strongly associated with episodes of threatened preterm labour. Medically indicated preterm deliveries were associated with hypertension and fetal growth restriction. Preterm premature rupture of the membranes, vaginal bleeding, anaemia and oligohydramnios were significantly increased in both spontaneous and indicated preterm deliveries compared to term controls.
Conclusions
More than 50% of preterm births are potentially preventable, but remain associated with risk factors such as increased uterine contractility, preterm premature rupture of the membranes and uterine bleeding whose aetiology is unknown. Despite remarkable advances in perinatal care, preterm birth continues to cause neonatal deaths and long-term morbidity. Significant breakthroughs in the management of preterm birth are likely to come from research into the mechanisms of human parturition and the pathophysiology of preterm labour using multidisciplinary clinical and laboratory approaches.
doi:10.1186/1756-0500-3-119
PMCID: PMC2877057  PMID: 20426852
19.  Neonatal Mortality Risk Associated with Preterm Birth in East Africa, Adjusted by Weight for Gestational Age: Individual Participant Level Meta-Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(8):e1001292.
In an analysis of four datasets from East Africa, Tanya Marchant and colleagues investigate the neonatal mortality risk associated with preterm birth and how this changes with weight for gestational age.
Background
Low birth weight and prematurity are amongst the strongest predictors of neonatal death. However, the extent to which they act independently is poorly understood. Our objective was to estimate the neonatal mortality risk associated with preterm birth when stratified by weight for gestational age in the high mortality setting of East Africa.
Methods and Findings
Members and collaborators of the Malaria and the MARCH Centers, at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, were contacted and protocols reviewed for East African studies that measured (1) birth weight, (2) gestational age at birth using antenatal ultrasound or neonatal assessment, and (3) neonatal mortality. Ten datasets were identified and four met the inclusion criteria. The four datasets (from Uganda, Kenya, and two from Tanzania) contained 5,727 births recorded between 1999–2010. 4,843 births had complete outcome data and were included in an individual participant level meta-analysis. 99% of 445 low birth weight (<2,500 g) babies were either preterm (<37 weeks gestation) or small for gestational age (below tenth percentile of weight for gestational age). 52% of 87 neonatal deaths occurred in preterm or small for gestational age babies. Babies born <34 weeks gestation had the highest odds of death compared to term babies (odds ratio [OR] 58.7 [95% CI 28.4–121.4]), with little difference when stratified by weight for gestational age. Babies born 34–36 weeks gestation with appropriate weight for gestational age had just three times the likelihood of neonatal death compared to babies born term, (OR 3.2 [95% CI 1.0–10.7]), but the likelihood for babies born 34–36 weeks who were also small for gestational age was 20 times higher (OR 19.8 [95% CI 8.3–47.4]). Only 1% of babies were born moderately premature and small for gestational age, but this group suffered 8% of deaths. Individual level data on newborns are scarce in East Africa; potential biases arising due to the non-systematic selection of the individual studies, or due to the methods applied for estimating gestational age, are discussed.
Conclusions
Moderately preterm babies who are also small for gestational age experience a considerably increased likelihood of neonatal death in East Africa.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.
Editors' Summary
Background
Worldwide, every year around 3.3 million babies die within their first month of life and the proportion of under-five child deaths that are now in the neonatal period (the first 28 days of life) has increased in all regions of the world and is currently estimated at 41%. Of these deaths, over 90% occur in low- and middle-income countries, and a third of all neonatal deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Low birth weight (defined as <2,500 g) is one of the biggest risk factors associated with neonatal deaths but it is the causes of low birth weight, rather than the low weight itself that is thought to lead to neonatal deaths. The two main causes of low birth weight are preterm birth (delivery before 37 weeks gestation) and/or restricted growth in the womb (intra-uterine growth retardation), resulting in babies who are small for their dates (defined as being in the lowest 10% of weight expected for gestational age with reference to a US population).
Why Was This Study Done?
Despite growing international attention focused on neonatal mortality in recent years, the relative importance of low birth weight, small for gestational age, and preterm birth in causing newborn deaths remains unclear. So in this study, the researchers investigated these relationships by calculating the risk of neonatal mortality associated with preterm birth after adjusting for weight for gestational age by conducting a meta-analysis (synthesis of the data) using information from studies reporting neonatal mortality conducted in sub-Saharan Africa.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified potential African datasets and selected four out of a possible ten to include in their analysis as these studies included three essential birth outcomes: birth weight; gestational age measured using antenatal ultrasound, or neonatal assessment on the day of birth; and neonatal mortality. These four studies were conducted in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, all in East Africa. The researchers analysed each study separately but also conducted a pooled statistical analysis on all four studies. To give a more detailed analysis, the researchers categorized babies into six groups taking into account whether the babies were moderately preterm (born at 34–36 weeks) or very preterm (born before 34 weeks) and whether their weight was appropriate for their gestational age.
The researchers included a total of 4,843 live births in their analysis and found that overall, 9.2% of babies were low birth weight, 4.0% were preterm, and 20.4% were small for gestational age. Amongst low birth weight babies, 26.1% were preterm, 85.0% were small for gestational age, and 98.8% were either preterm or small for gestational age. In their detailed analysis, the researchers found that the odds (chance) of death in the first 28 days of life were seven times higher for babies born low birth weight compared to those with normal birth weight, with low birth weight infants experiencing a neonatal mortality rate of 80.9/1,000 live births. The odds of death were twice as high for babies born small for gestational age compared to those born appropriate for gestational age, giving a neonatal mortality rate of 29.3/1,000 live births. Furthermore, compared to those born at term, the odds of death were over six times higher for babies born moderately preterm and almost 60 times higher for babies born very preterm with almost half of all very preterm babies dying in the first 28 days of life, giving a neonatal mortality rate 473.6/1,000 live births. However, moderately preterm babies who were small for gestational age had a much greater odds of death than moderately preterm babies who were of the appropriate weight for their gestational age.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings from East Africa show that babies born either small for gestational age or preterm contributed 52% of neonatal deaths. The detailed analysis suggests that babies born preterm are at the greatest risk of death, but size for gestational age also plays an important role especially in moderately preterm babies. The results from this study emphasize the pressing need to find ways to prevent preterm delivery and intra-uterine growth retardation and also illustrate the importance of measuring and reporting outcomes of individual babies.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001292.
A recent PLOS Medicine study by Oestergaard et al. has the latest global figures on neonatal mortality
UNICEF provides information on neonatal mortality
The World Health Organization (WHO) provides factsheets on the causes of neonatal mortality, including preterm birth
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001292
PMCID: PMC3419185  PMID: 22904691
20.  Global Estimates of Syphilis in Pregnancy and Associated Adverse Outcomes: Analysis of Multinational Antenatal Surveillance Data 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(2):e1001396.
Using multinational surveillance data, Lori Newman and colleagues estimate global rates of active syphilis in pregnant women, adverse effects, and antenatal coverage and treatment needed to meet WHO goals.
Background
The World Health Organization initiative to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of syphilis aims for ≥90% of pregnant women to be tested for syphilis and ≥90% to receive treatment by 2015. We calculated global and regional estimates of syphilis in pregnancy and associated adverse outcomes for 2008, as well as antenatal care (ANC) coverage for women with syphilis.
Methods and Findings
Estimates were based upon a health service delivery model. National syphilis seropositivity data from 97 of 193 countries and ANC coverage from 147 countries were obtained from World Health Organization databases. Proportions of adverse outcomes and effectiveness of screening and treatment were from published literature. Regional estimates of ANC syphilis testing and treatment were examined through sensitivity analysis. In 2008, approximately 1.36 million (range: 1.16 to 1.56 million) pregnant women globally were estimated to have probable active syphilis; of these, 80% had attended ANC. Globally, 520,905 (best case: 425,847; worst case: 615,963) adverse outcomes were estimated to be caused by maternal syphilis, including approximately 212,327 (174,938; 249,716) stillbirths (>28 wk) or early fetal deaths (22 to 28 wk), 91,764 (76,141; 107,397) neonatal deaths, 65,267 (56,929; 73,605) preterm or low birth weight infants, and 151,547 (117,848; 185,245) infected newborns. Approximately 66% of adverse outcomes occurred in ANC attendees who were not tested or were not treated for syphilis. In 2008, based on the middle case scenario, clinical services likely averted 26% of all adverse outcomes. Limitations include missing syphilis seropositivity data for many countries in Europe, the Mediterranean, and North America, and use of estimates for the proportion of syphilis that was “probable active,” and for testing and treatment coverage.
Conclusions
Syphilis continues to affect large numbers of pregnant women, causing substantial perinatal morbidity and mortality that could be prevented by early testing and treatment. In this analysis, most adverse outcomes occurred among women who attended ANC but were not tested or treated for syphilis, highlighting the need to improve the quality of ANC as well as ANC coverage. In addition, improved ANC data on syphilis testing coverage, positivity, and treatment are needed.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Syphilis—a sexually transmitted bacterial infection caused by Treponema pallidum—can pass from a mother who is infected to her unborn child. Screening pregnant women for syphilis during routine antenatal care by looking for a reaction to T. pallidum in the blood (seropositivity) and then treating any detected infections with penicillin injections has been feasible for many years, even in low-resource settings. However, because coverage of testing and treatment of syphilis remains low in many countries, mother-to-child transmission of syphilis—“congenital syphilis”—is still a global public health problem. In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that there were 2 million syphilis infections among pregnant women annually, 65% of which resulted in adverse pregnancy outcomes: the baby's death during early or late pregnancy (fetal death and stillbirth, respectively) or soon after birth (neonatal death), or the birth of an infected baby. Babies born with syphilis often have a low birth weight and develop problems such as blindness, deafness, and seizures if not treated.
Why Was This Study Done?
In 2007, WHO launched an initiative to eliminate congenital syphilis that set targets of at least 90% of pregnant women being tested for syphilis and at least 90% of seropositive pregnant women receiving adequate treatment by 2015. To assess the initiative's progress and to guide policy and advocacy efforts, accurate global data on the burden of syphilis in pregnancy and on associated adverse outcomes are needed. Unfortunately, even in developed countries with good laboratory facilities, definitive diagnosis of congenital syphilis is difficult. Estimates of the global burden can be obtained, however, using mathematical models. In this study, the researchers generate global and regional estimates of the burden of syphilis in pregnancy and associated adverse outcomes for 2008 using a health services delivery model.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers developed a mathematical model to estimate the number of syphilis-infected pregnant women in each country and in each region, and to estimate the regional and global numbers of adverse pregnancy outcomes associated with syphilis. They used national syphilis seropositivity data and information on antenatal care coverage from WHO and estimates of the effectiveness of screening and treatment from published literature. Using these data and their model, the researchers estimated that, in 2008, 1.4 million pregnant women, 80% of whom had attended antenatal care services, had an active syphilis infection. Assuming a scenario in which the percentage of pregnant women tested for syphilis and adequately treated ranged from 30% for Africa and the Mediterranean region to 70% for Europe (a scenario defined in consultation with WHO advisors), the researchers estimated that maternal syphilis caused 520,000 adverse outcomes in 2008, including 215,000 stillbirths or fetal deaths, 90,000 neonatal deaths, 65,000 preterm or low birth weight infants, and 150,000 infants with congenital disease. About 66% of these adverse effects occurred in women who had attended antenatal care but were either not tested or not treated for syphilis. Finally, the researchers estimated that in 2008, clinical services averted 26% of all adverse outcomes.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings, which update and extend previous estimates of the global burden of congenital syphilis, indicate that syphilis continues to affect a large number of pregnant women and their offspring. The current findings, which cannot be directly compared to previous estimates because of the different methodologies used, are likely to be affected by the accuracy of the data fed into the researchers' model. In particular, the data on the percentage of the population infected with syphilis in individual countries used in this study came from the HIV Universal Access reporting system and may not be nationally representative. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that syphilis continues to be an important cause of adverse outcomes of pregnancy, partly because pregnant women often do not receive syphilis screening and prompt treatment during routine antenatal care. The researchers recommend, therefore, that all countries should ensure that all pregnant women receive an essential package of high-quality antenatal care services that includes routine and easy access to syphilis testing and treatment. Congenital syphilis, they conclude, can only be eliminated if decision-makers at all levels prioritize the provision, quality, and monitoring of this basic antenatal care service, which has the potential to reduce infant mortality and improve maternal health.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001396.
The World Health Organization provides information on sexually transmitted diseases, including details of its strategy for the global elimination of congenital syphilis, the investment case for the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of syphilis, and regional updates on progress towards elimination (some information is available in several languages)
The Pan American Health Organization provides information on efforts to eliminate congenital syphilis in Latin America (in English and Spanish), and the Asia-Pacific Prevention of Parent-to-Child Transmission Task Force provides information on efforts to eliminate congenital syphilis in Asia Pacific
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a fact sheet on syphilis (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website also has a page on syphilis
MedlinePlus provides information on congenital syphilis and links to additional syphilis resources (in English and Spanish)
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine provides a toolkit for the introduction of rapid syphilis tests
Haiti: Congenital Syphilis on the Way Out is a YouTube video describing the introduction of rapid diagnostic tests for syphilis in remote parts of Haiti
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001396
PMCID: PMC3582608  PMID: 23468598
21.  The Effectiveness of Emergency Obstetric Referral Interventions in Developing Country Settings: A Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(7):e1001264.
In a systematic review of the literature, Julia Hussein and colleagues seek to determine the effect of referral interventions that enable emergency access to health facilities for pregnant women living in developing countries.
Background
Pregnancy complications can be unpredictable and many women in developing countries cannot access health facilities where life-saving care is available. This study assesses the effects of referral interventions that enable pregnant women to reach health facilities during an emergency, after the decision to seek care is made.
Methods and findings
Selected bibliographic databases were searched with no date or language restrictions. Randomised controlled trials and quasi experimental study designs with a comparison group were included. Outcomes of interest included maternal and neonatal mortality and other intermediate measures such as service utilisation. Two reviewers independently selected, appraised, and extracted articles using predefined fields. Forest plots, tables, and qualitative summaries of study quality, size, and direction of effect were used for analysis.
Nineteen studies were included. In South Asian settings, four studies of organisational interventions in communities that generated funds for transport reduced neonatal deaths, with the largest effect seen in India (odds ratio 0·48 95% CI 0·34–0·68). Three quasi experimental studies from sub-Saharan Africa reported reductions in stillbirths with maternity waiting home interventions, with one statistically significant result (OR 0.56 95% CI 0.32–0.96). Effects of interventions on maternal mortality were unclear. Referral interventions usually improved utilisation of health services but the opposite effect was also documented. The effects of multiple interventions in the studies could not be disentangled. Explanatory mechanisms through which the interventions worked could not be ascertained.
Conclusions
Community mobilisation interventions may reduce neonatal mortality but the contribution of referral components cannot be ascertained. The reduction in stillbirth rates resulting from maternity waiting homes needs further study. Referral interventions can have unexpected adverse effects. To inform the implementation of effective referral interventions, improved monitoring and evaluation practices are necessary, along with studies that develop better understanding of how interventions work.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, about 350,000 women die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications. Almost all of these “maternal” deaths occur in developing countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the maternal mortality ratio (MMR, the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) is 500 and a woman's life-time risk of dying from complications of pregnancy or childbirth is 1 in 39. By contrast, the MMR in industrialized countries is 12 and women have a life-time risk of maternal death of 1 in 4,700. Most maternal deaths are caused by hemorrhage (severe bleeding after childbirth), post-delivery infections, obstructed (difficult) labor, and blood pressure disorders during pregnancy, all of which are preventable or treatable conditions. Unfortunately, it is hard to predict which women will develop pregnancy complications, many complications rapidly become life-threatening and, in developing countries, women often deliver at home, far from emergency obstetric services; obstetrics deals with the care of women and their children during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postnatal period.
Why Was This Study Done?
It should be possible to reduce maternal deaths (and the deaths of babies during pregnancy, childbirth, and early life) in developing countries by ensuring that pregnant women are referred to emergency obstetric services quickly when the need arises. Unfortunately, in such countries referral to emergency obstetric care is beset with problems such as difficult geographical terrain, transport costs, lack of vehicles, and suboptimal location and distribution of health care facilities. In this systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic), the researchers assess the effectiveness of interventions designed to reduce the “phase II delay” in referral to emergency obstetric care in developing countries—the time it takes a woman to reach an appropriate health care facility once a problem has been recognized and the decision has been taken to seek care. Delays in diagnosis and the decision to seek care are phase I delays in referral, whereas delays in receiving care once a women reaches a health care facility are phase III delays.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 19 published studies that described 14 interventions designed to overcome phase II delays in emergency obstetric referral and that met their criteria for inclusion in their systematic review. About half of the interventions were organizational. That is, they were designed to overcome barriers to referral such as costs. Most of the remaining interventions were structural. That is, they involved the provision of, for example, ambulances and maternity waiting homes—placed close to a health care facility where women can stay during late pregnancy. Although seven studies provided data on maternal mortality, none showed a sustained, statistically significant reduction (a reduction unlikely to have occurred by chance) in maternal deaths. Four studies in South Asia in which communities generated funds for transport reduced neonatal deaths (deaths of babies soon after birth), but the only statistically significant effect of this community mobilization intervention was seen in India where neonatal deaths were halved. Three studies from sub-Saharan Africa reported that the introduction of maternity waiting homes reduced stillbirths but this reduction was only significant in one study. Finally, although referral interventions generally improved the utilization of health services, in one study the provision of bicycle ambulances to take women to the hospital reduced the proportion of women delivering in health facilities, probably because women felt that bicycle ambulances drew unwanted attention to them during labor and so preferred to stay at home.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that community mobilization interventions may reduce neonatal mortality and that maternity waiting rooms may reduce stillbirths. Importantly, they also highlight how referral interventions can have unexpected adverse effects. However, because the studies included in this systematic review included multiple interventions designed to reduce delays at several stages of the referral process, it is not possible to disentangle the contribution of each component of the intervention. Moreover, it is impossible at present to determine why (or even if) any of the interventions reduced maternal mortality. Thus, the researchers conclude, improved monitoring of interventions and better evaluation of outcomes is essential to inform the implementation of effective referral interventions, and more studies are needed to improve understanding of how referral interventions work.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001264.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) provides information on maternal mortality, including the WHO/UNICEF./UNFPA/World Bank 2008 country estimates of maternal mortality
The World Health Organization provides information on maternal health, including information about Millennium Development Goal 5, which aims to reduce maternal mortality (in several languages); the Millennium Development Goals, which were agreed by world leaders in 2000, are designed to eradicate extreme poverty worldwide by 2015
Immpact is a global research initiative for the evaluation of safe motherhood intervention strategies
Veil of Tears contains personal stories from Afghanistan about loss in childbirth; the non-governmental health development organization AMREF provides personal stories about maternal health in Africa
Maternal Death: The Avoidable Crisis is a briefing paper published by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in March 2012
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001264
PMCID: PMC3393680  PMID: 22807658
22.  Global report on preterm birth and stillbirth (5 of 7): advocacy barriers and opportunities 
BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth  2010;10(Suppl 1):S5.
Background
Efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to improve maternal and child health can be accelerated by addressing preterm birth and stillbirth. However, most global health stakeholders are unaware of the inextricable connections of these adverse pregnancy outcomes to maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH). Improved visibility of preterm births and stillbirths will help fuel investments and strengthen commitments in the discovery, development and delivery of low-cost solutions globally. This article addresses potential barriers and opportunities to increasing global awareness and understanding.
Methods
Qualitative research was conducted to analyze current knowledge, attitudes and commitments toward preterm birth and stillbirth; identify advocacy challenges; and learn more about examples of programs that successfully advocate for research and appropriate interventions. Forty-one individuals from 14 countries on six continents were interviewed. They included maternal, newborn, and child health advocates and implementers, United Nations agency representatives, policymakers, researchers, and private and government donors.
Results
A common recognition of three advocacy challenges with regard to preterm birth and stillbirth emerged from these interviews: (1) lack of data about the magnitude and impact; (2) lack of awareness and understanding; and (3) lack of low-cost, effective and scalable interventions. Participants also identified advocacy opportunities. The first of these opportunities involves linking preterm birth and stillbirth to the MDGs, adding these outcomes to broader global health discussions and advocacy efforts, and presenting a united voice among advocates in the context of broader MNCH issues when addressing preterm birth and stillbirth. Another key opportunity is putting a human face to these tragedies—such as a parent who can speak to the personal impact on the family. Lastly, several interviewees suggested identifying and engaging champions to garner additional visibility and strengthen efforts. Ideal champions will work collaboratively with these and other maternal, newborn and child health issues. Conclusion: Advocacy efforts to add preterm births and stillbirths to broader MNCH goals, such as the MDGs, and to identify champions for these issues, will accelerate interdisciplinary efforts to reduce these adverse outcomes. The next article in this report presents an overview of related ethical considerations.
doi:10.1186/1471-2393-10-S1-S5
PMCID: PMC2841773  PMID: 20233386
23.  Mapping a New Spontaneous Preterm Birth Susceptibility Gene, IGF1R, Using Linkage, Haplotype Sharing, and Association Analysis 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(2):e1001293.
Preterm birth is the major cause of neonatal death and serious morbidity. Most preterm births are due to spontaneous onset of labor without a known cause or effective prevention. Both maternal and fetal genomes influence the predisposition to spontaneous preterm birth (SPTB), but the susceptibility loci remain to be defined. We utilized a combination of unique population structures, family-based linkage analysis, and subsequent case-control association to identify a susceptibility haplotype for SPTB. Clinically well-characterized SPTB families from northern Finland, a subisolate founded by a relatively small founder population that has subsequently experienced a number of bottlenecks, were selected for the initial discovery sample. Genome-wide linkage analysis using a high-density single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) array in seven large northern Finnish non-consanginous families identified a locus on 15q26.3 (HLOD 4.68). This region contains the IGF1R gene, which encodes the type 1 insulin-like growth factor receptor IGF-1R. Haplotype segregation analysis revealed that a 55 kb 12-SNP core segment within the IGF1R gene was shared identical-by-state (IBS) in five families. A follow-up case-control study in an independent sample representing the more general Finnish population showed an association of a 6-SNP IGF1R haplotype with SPTB in the fetuses, providing further evidence for IGF1R as a SPTB predisposition gene (frequency in cases versus controls 0.11 versus 0.05, P = 0.001, odds ratio 2.3). This study demonstrates the identification of a predisposing, low-frequency haplotype in a multifactorial trait using a well-characterized population and a combination of family and case-control designs. Our findings support the identification of the novel susceptibility gene IGF1R for predisposition by the fetal genome to being born preterm.
Author Summary
Preterm birth is the major cause of infant deaths and life-long neurologic and cardiopulmonary morbidity. More than 10% of births in the United States occur prematurely, and the rate is increasing without known effective prevention. Previous premature birth increases the risk 3-fold in subsequent pregnancies. We report here, for the first time to our knowledge, a genome-wide study on susceptibility to spontaneous preterm birth in singleton pregnancies. To detect novel regions of the genome associated with preterm birth, we performed linkage analysis on seven carefully selected large families with recurrent spontaneous premature births. When we studied the fetuses, evidence was found for linkage of a region on chromosome 15 with spontaneous preterm birth, with the highest linkage signals occurring within a single gene, IGF1R. Evidence of the involvement of this gene in the etiology of preterm birth was further strengthened by subsequent haplotype segregation analysis and case-control analysis of an independent patient population. The IGF1R gene encodes insulin-like growth factor receptor 1 (IGF-1R), an important protein that potentially regulates signaling cascades involved in the onset of labor. Our analyses are unique in providing evidence that fetal IGF1R influences the risk of spontaneous preterm labor, leading to preterm birth.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1001293
PMCID: PMC3033387  PMID: 21304894
24.  Induction of Labor versus Expectant Management in Women with Preterm Prelabor Rupture of Membranes between 34 and 37 Weeks: A Randomized Controlled Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(4):e1001208.
In a randomized controlled trial David van der Ham and colleagues investigate induction of labor versus expectant management for women with preterm prelabor rupture of membranes.
Background
At present, there is insufficient evidence to guide appropriate management of women with preterm prelabor rupture of membranes (PPROM) near term.
Methods and Findings
We conducted an open-label randomized controlled trial in 60 hospitals in The Netherlands, which included non-laboring women with >24 h of PPROM between 34+0 and 37+0 wk of gestation. Participants were randomly allocated in a 1∶1 ratio to induction of labor (IoL) or expectant management (EM) using block randomization. The main outcome was neonatal sepsis. Secondary outcomes included mode of delivery, respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), and chorioamnionitis. Patients and caregivers were not blinded to randomization status. We updated a prior meta-analysis on the effect of both interventions on neonatal sepsis, RDS, and cesarean section rate.
From 1 January 2007 to 9 September 2009, 776 patients in 60 hospitals were eligible for the study, of which 536 patients were randomized. Four patients were excluded after randomization. We allocated 266 women (268 neonates) to IoL and 266 women (270 neonates) to EM. Neonatal sepsis occurred in seven (2.6%) newborns of women in the IoL group and in 11 (4.1%) neonates in the EM group (relative risk [RR] 0.64; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.25 to 1.6). RDS was seen in 21 (7.8%, IoL) versus 17 neonates (6.3%, EM) (RR 1.3; 95% CI 0.67 to 2.3), and a cesarean section was performed in 36 (13%, IoL) versus 37 (14%, EM) women (RR 0.98; 95% CI 0.64 to 1.50). The risk for chorioamnionitis was reduced in the IoL group. No serious adverse events were reported.
Updating an existing meta-analysis with our trial results (the only eligible trial for the update) indicated RRs of 1.06 (95% CI 0.64 to 1.76) for neonatal sepsis (eight trials, 1,230 neonates) and 1.27 (95% CI 0.98 to 1.65) for cesarean section (eight trials, 1,222 women) for IoL compared with EM.
Conclusions
In women whose pregnancy is complicated by late PPROM, neither our trial nor the updated meta-analysis indicates that IoL substantially improves pregnancy outcomes compared with EM.
Trial registration
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN29313500
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Most pregnancies last around 40 weeks, but in industrialized countries, 5%–10% of babies are born before 37 weeks of gestation (gestation is the period during which a baby develops in its mother's womb). Premature birth is a major cause of infant death in many developed countries, and preterm babies can also have short- and/or long-term health problems such as breathing problems, increased susceptibility to life-threatening infections, and learning and developmental disabilities. There are many reasons why some babies are born prematurely, but preterm prelabor rupture of the membranes (PPROM) accounts for 30%–40% of preterm deliveries. Inside the womb, the baby is held in a fluid-filled bag called the amniotic sac. The amniotic fluid cushions the baby, helps some of its organs develop, and protects both mother and baby from infection. The membranes that form the sac usually break at the start of labor (“water breaking”), but in PPROM, the membranes break before the baby is fully grown. PPROM increases the mother's risk of a womb infection called chorioamnionitis and the baby's risk of neonatal sepsis (blood infection), and can trigger early labor.
Why Was This Study Done?
There is currently no consensus on how to manage women whose membranes rupture between 34 and 37 weeks' gestation. Some guidelines recommend immediate induction of labor if PPROM occurs at or beyond 34 weeks' gestation. Others recommend that labor not be induced unless the mother develops signs of infection such as a high temperature or has not delivered her baby spontaneously by 37 weeks' gestation (expectant management). Before 34 weeks' gestation, expectant management is generally recommended. In this randomized controlled trial, the researchers compare the effects of induction of labor and of expectant management on the rate of neonatal sepsis (the proportion of babies that develop neonatal sepsis; the trial's primary outcome) and on secondary outcomes such as the rates of neonatal respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), cesarean section (surgical delivery), and chorioamnionitis in women with PPROM between 34 and 37 weeks' gestation. The researchers also undertake a meta-analysis of published trials on the effect of both interventions on pregnancy outcomes. A randomized controlled trial compares the effects of different interventions in groups of individuals chosen through the play of chance; meta-analysis is a statistical approach that combines the results of several trials.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In the PPROM Expectant Management versus Induction of Labor (PRROMEXIL) trial, 532 non-laboring women with PPROM between 34 and 37 weeks' gestation were randomly assigned to either immediate induction of labor or expectant management. Neonatal sepsis occurred in seven babies born to women in the induction of labor group and in 11 babies born to women in the expectant management group. This difference was not statistically significant. That is, it could have happened by chance. Similarly, although more babies born to women in the induction of labor group than in the expectant management group developed RDS (21 and 17 babies, respectively), this difference was not significant. Cesarean section rates were similar in both intervention groups, but the risk of chorioamnionitis was slightly reduced in the induction of labor group compared to the expectant management group. Finally, the researchers' meta-analysis (which included these new results) found no significant differences in the risk of neonatal sepsis, RDS, or cesarean section associated with the two interventions.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that, compared to expectant management, induction of labor did not reduce the incidence of neonatal sepsis in pregnancies complicated by PPROM between 34 and 37 weeks' gestation. However, because fewer babies than expected born to the women in the expectant management group developed neonatal sepsis, this trial was underpowered. That is, too few women were enrolled in the trial to enable the detection of a small difference between the interventions in the neonatal sepsis rate. These findings also show that induction of labor did not substantially affect most of the secondary outcomes measured by the researchers. Given these results and those of their meta-analysis, the researchers conclude that, in women whose pregnancy is complicated by PPROM late in pregnancy, induction of labor does not substantially improve the outcome for either the woman or her baby compared to expectant management.
Additional Information
Please access these web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001208.
The March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health, provides information on preterm birth (in English and Spanish); its News Moms Need blog contains a post on PPROM
Tommy's is a nonprofit organization that funds research and provides information on the causes and prevention of miscarriage, premature birth, and stillbirth
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists guidelines on the diagnosis, investigation, and management of PPROM are available (in English and Russian)
Information about the PPROMEXIL trial is available
Personal stories about PPROM are available on the Austprem web site, a non-profit organization that provides information about prematurity and support for parents of premature babies in Australia
MedlinePlus provides links to other information on premature babies (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001208
PMCID: PMC3335867  PMID: 22545024
25.  Pregnancy and Infant Outcomes among HIV-Infected Women Taking Long-Term ART with and without Tenofovir in the DART Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(5):e1001217.
Diana Gibb and colleagues investigate the effect of in utero tenofovir exposure by analyzing the pregnancy and infant outcomes of HIV-infected women enrolled in the DART trial.
Background
Few data have described long-term outcomes for infants born to HIV-infected African women taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) in pregnancy. This is particularly true for World Health Organization (WHO)–recommended tenofovir-containing first-line regimens, which are increasingly used and known to cause renal and bone toxicities; concerns have been raised about potential toxicity in babies due to in utero tenofovir exposure.
Methods and Findings
Pregnancy outcome and maternal/infant ART were collected in Ugandan/Zimbabwean HIV-infected women initiating ART during The Development of AntiRetroviral Therapy in Africa (DART) trial, which compared routine laboratory monitoring (CD4; toxicity) versus clinically driven monitoring. Women were followed 15 January 2003 to 28 September 2009. Infant feeding, clinical status, and biochemistry/haematology results were collected in a separate infant study. Effect of in utero ART exposure on infant growth was analysed using random effects models.
382 pregnancies occurred in 302/1,867 (16%) women (4.4/100 woman-years [95% CI 4.0–4.9]). 226/390 (58%) outcomes were live-births, 27 (7%) stillbirths (≥22 wk), and 137 (35%) terminations/miscarriages (<22 wk). Of 226 live-births, seven (3%) infants died <2 wk from perinatal causes and there were seven (3%) congenital abnormalities, with no effect of in utero tenofovir exposure (p>0.4). Of 219 surviving infants, 182 (83%) enrolled in the follow-up study; median (interquartile range [IQR]) age at last visit was 25 (12–38) months. From mothers' ART, 62/9/111 infants had no/20%–89%/≥90% in utero tenofovir exposure; most were also zidovudine/lamivudine exposed. All 172 infants tested were HIV-negative (ten untested). Only 73/182(40%) infants were breast-fed for median 94 (IQR 75–212) days. Overall, 14 infants died at median (IQR) age 9 (3–23) months, giving 5% 12-month mortality; six of 14 were HIV-uninfected; eight untested infants died of respiratory infection (three), sepsis (two), burns (one), measles (one), unknown (one). During follow-up, no bone fractures were reported to have occurred; 12/368 creatinines and seven out of 305 phosphates were grade one (16) or two (three) in 14 children with no effect of in utero tenofovir (p>0.1). There was no evidence that in utero tenofovir affected growth after 2 years (p = 0.38). Attained height- and weight for age were similar to general (HIV-uninfected) Ugandan populations. Study limitations included relatively small size and lack of randomisation to maternal ART regimens.
Conclusions
Overall 1-year 5% infant mortality was similar to the 2%–4% post-neonatal mortality observed in this region. No increase in congenital, renal, or growth abnormalities was observed with in utero tenofovir exposure. Although some infants died untested, absence of recorded HIV infection with combination ART in pregnancy is encouraging. Detailed safety of tenofovir for pre-exposure prophylaxis will need confirmation from longer term follow-up of larger numbers of exposed children.
Trial registration
www.controlled-trials.com ISRCTN13968779
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Currently, about 34 million people (mostly in low- and middle-income countries) are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. At the beginning of the epidemic, more men than women were infected with HIV but now about half of all people living with HIV/AIDS are women, most of who became infected through unprotected sex with an infected partner. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, 12 million women are HIV-positive. Worldwide, HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among women of child-bearing age. Moreover, most of the 400,000 children who become infected with HIV every year acquire the virus from their mother during pregnancy or birth, or through breastfeeding, so-called mother-to-child transmission (MTCT). Combination antiretroviral therapy (ART)—treatment with cocktails of powerful antiretroviral drugs—reduces HIV-related illness and death among women, and ART given to HIV-positive mothers during pregnancy and delivery and to their newborn babies greatly reduces MTCT.
Why Was This Study Done?
Because of ongoing international efforts to increase ART coverage, more HIV-positive women in Africa have access to ART now than ever before. However, little is known about pregnancy outcomes among HIV-infected African women taking ART throughout pregnancy for their own health or about the long-term outcomes of their offspring. In particular, few studies have examined the effect of taking tenofovir (an antiretroviral drug that is now recommended as part of first-line ART) throughout pregnancy. Tenofovir readily crosses from mother to child during pregnancy and, in animal experiments, high doses of tenofovir given during pregnancy caused bone demineralization (which weakens bones), kidney problems, and impaired growth among offspring. In this study, the researchers analyze data collected on pregnancy and infant outcomes among Ugandan and Zimbabwean HIV-positive women who took ART throughout pregnancy in the Development of AntiRetroviral Therapy in Africa (DART) trial. This trial was designed to test whether ART could be safely and effectively delivered in Africa without access to the expensive laboratory tests that are routinely used to monitor ART toxicity and efficacy in developed countries.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The pregnancy outcomes of 302 women who became pregnant during the DART trial and information on birth defects among their babies were collected as part of the DART protocol; information on the survival, growth, and development of the infants born to these women was collected in a separate infant study. Most of the women who became pregnant were taking tenofovir-containing ART before and throughout their pregnancies. 58% of the pregnancies resulted in a live birth, 7% resulted in a stillbirth (birth of a dead baby at any time from 22 weeks gestation to the end of pregnancy), and 35% resulted in a termination or miscarriage (before 22 weeks gestation). Of the 226 live births, seven infants died within 2 weeks and seven had birth defects. Similar proportions of the infants exposed and not exposed to tenofovir during pregnancy died soon after birth or had birth defects. Of the 182 surviving infants who were enrolled in the infant study, 14 subsequently died at an average age of 9 months, giving a 1-year mortality of 5%. None of the surviving children who were tested (172 infants) were HIV infected. No bone fractures or major kidney problems occurred during follow-up and prebirth exposure to tenofovir in utero had no effect on growth or weight gain at 2 years (in contrast to a previous US study).
What Do These Findings Mean?
By showing that prebirth tenofovir exposure does not affect pregnancy outcomes or increase birth defects, growth abnormalities, or kidney problems, these findings support the use of tenofovir-containing ART during pregnancy among HIV-positive African women, and suggest that it could also be used to prevent women of child-bearing age acquiring HIV-infection heterosexually. Notably, the observed 5% 1-year infant mortality is similar to the 2%–4% infant mortality normally seen in the region. The absence of HIV infection among the infants born to the DART participants is also encouraging. However, this is a small study (only 111 infants were exposed to tenofovir throughout pregnancy) and women were not randomly assigned to receive tenofovir-containing ART. Consequently, more studies are needed to confirm that tenofovir exposure during pregnancy does not affect pregnancy outcomes or have any long-term effects on infants. Such studies are essential because the use of tenofovir as a treatment for women who are HIV-positive is likely to increase and tenofovir may also be used in the future to prevent HIV acquisition in HIV-uninfected women.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001217.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and infectious diseases on all aspects of HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS, and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment (in several languages)
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS nonprofit on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including detailed information on HIV/AIDS treatment and care, women, HIV and AIDS, children, HIV and AIDS, and on HIV/AIDS and pregnancy (some information in English and Spanish); personal stories of women living with HIV are available
More information about the DART trial is available
Additional patient stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through the nonprofit website Healthtalkonline
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001217
PMCID: PMC3352861  PMID: 22615543

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