An undetected amniotic fluid infection may put you and baby at risk. Recent discoveries are showing how an immune response from you or your baby to such an infection may release hormones that start labor and birth, among other changes triggered by your DNA to promote survival.

The onset of premature labor “allows the mother to rid herself of the infected tissue and preserve her ability to have future pregnancies,” says lead researcher Dr. Roberto Romero, MD, chief of the perinatology research branch and program head for perinatal research and obstetrics at the NIH’s National Institute for Child Health and Development. When this occurs later in pregnancy, “it may be life-saving for both mother and fetus,” he said.

Preterm labor and birth affects more than 500,000 babies in the U.S. each year and more than 13 million worldwide. Babies born preterm risk: death, life-threatening infections, blindness, breathing and neurological problems, learning and developmental disabilities, growth problems, and cerebral palsy.

Researchers estimate that 1 of every 3 preterm infants is born to a mother who has a silent infection of the amniotic fluid. Just as responses to allergens vary from person to person, so do responses from pregnant women to this infection, which explains why some are at greater risk for preterm birth while others aren’t.


The Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) promotes the health of women and newborns.

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