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Preterm Labor and Birth: NICHD Research Goals

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Preterm birth, defined as the birth of a fetus before 37 weeks of gestation, is a major public health priority for the United States and an important research focus for the NICHD. Preterm infants are at high risk for a variety of disorders, including cerebral palsy, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and vision impairment. These infants are also at high risk for long-term health issues, including cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure) and diabetes.

The NICHD supports and conducts a large portfolio of research on preterm labor and birth. Among its comprehensive goals are the following:

  • Preventing preterm labor and delaying birth until 39 weeks of gestation. Because women who have one preterm birth are considered to be at high risk for another preterm birth, investigators have focused much of their attention on trying to prevent preterm birth among these high-risk women. Current research efforts also are directed toward the significant problem of preterm labor and birth among women who have not given birth before (referred to as being "nulliparous").
  • Understanding and preventing non-medically indicated preterm deliveries. The NICHD is working with professional organizations to educate health care providers and the public about the significant risks to infants born even a few weeks early.
  • Addressing health disparities in preterm birth. Race/ethnicity is an independent risk factor for preterm labor and birth. NICHD research is improving our understanding of health disparities and how they influence risk of preterm birth.
  • Studying risk factors for preterm labor. NICHD-supported researchers are elucidating the effect of various risk factors—biological, environmental, genetic, and maternal.
  • Improving outcomes for preterm infants. Infants born too early are at heightened risk for short- and long-term consequences. NICHD researchers are testing the safety and efficacy of interventions to see which ones work—and which ones don't.
Last Updated Date: 11/30/2012
Last Reviewed Date: 11/06/2013
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