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Testing your risk of preterm birth

Important facts
about the risk of
preterm birth

This information is for consumers. For doctor or clinical information, click here.

Preterm birth in Australia

Figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show over 25,000 preterm births occur annually (prior to 37 weeks) - that's around 1 in 12 births in Australia.1

The causes are not fully understood, and in up to half of all preterm births, the cause remains a mystery.2 However, there are some related risk factors to be aware of.2 If your doctor has determined you are at risk, he or she will provide you with additional information.

Who is at risk of preterm birth?

Understanding your risks can help your doctor and you work out a suitable management plan. Any of the following factors may mean you are at risk of preterm birth.3

  • You have experienced a previous preterm birth (< 37 weeks)
  • You are carrying twins or triplets
  • You have had cervical surgery or uterine abnormalities
  • You have had previous miscarriage/s during the second trimester
  • Your cervical length is 25mm or less during pregnancy
  • You have undergone In vitro fertilisation (IVF)4

Please contact your doctor or midwife if you have any concerns about your risk of preterm birth.

What are the signs and symptoms of preterm labour?

Even if you do not have any known risks, you should
contact your doctor or midwife if you have any
symptoms of preterm labour, which may include:

  • Regular painful contractions that don't stop
  • Period type cramps that come and go, or are constant
  • Changes in the amount, colour, consistency and smell of vaginal discharge
  • Constant, dull back pain, loin pain or urinary cramps
  • Pelvic pressure, as though the baby is pushing downward

Please contact your doctor or midwife if you are experiencing any of these symptoms or if you have any concerns about your risk of preterm birth.

Why fetal fibronectin matters

Fetal fibronectin (fFN) is a "glue-like" protein that binds the membranes around the baby to the uterus. It is detectable in vaginal secretions at the very beginning of pregnancy, when this bond is first forming and then again at the end of your pregnancy.

From weeks 22 to 35, this "glue" should be almost undetectable. If it is detectable during this time frame, it could indicate your body is getting ready to deliver early. The quantitative fFN test not only detects if fFN is present, but how much is present to help your doctor determine your best management pathway.5

Your doctor will advise if the Rapid fFN Test is suitable for you.

What is a quantitative fFN test?

If you are experiencing symptoms of preterm labour - or if you are at risk of preterm birth - your doctor may perform a quantitative fFN test. This test measures the amount of fetal fibronectin (fFN) in your vaginal secretions, which provides an indication of your risk of preterm birth.

If you have symptoms, this test helps your doctor decide whether you should be admitted for treatment, observed for further diagnosis, transferred to a specialist hospital or discharged.5,6

If you do not have symptoms but remain at risk, the test result can assist your doctor to determine the best plan for your pregnancy.


A fFN test is a simple and non-invasive test that measures whether fetal fibronectin is present in your vaginal secretions – and if so, how much is present. It helps your doctor or midwife determine whether your body may be getting ready for delivery, even before you feel any of the symptoms. The test result (the amount of fFN detected) will help your doctor or midwife to establish the best management pathway for you. Fetal fibronectin is a "glue-like" protein your body produces to help hold your baby in place.
A fFN test is typically performed as a simple vaginal swab by a doctor or midwife in his or her office or at a hospital. The results are usually available in 10 minutes.
The test can be performed between 22 and 36 weeks’ gestation for women with signs and symptoms of preterm labour and between 22 and 28 weeks’ gestation for at risk patients without symptoms.
There are no known related side effects from the fFN test.
Yes. You and your doctor can decide to repeat the test as often as every two weeks during the period from weeks 22 and 36 for women with signs and symptoms and from weeks 22 and 28 for at risk patients without symptoms.