Lisa is 30 weeks pregnant with her first baby. She had been having some lower abdominal cramping for a few days and decided she had better call her OB. Lisa’s OB told her to come in to the office for a fetal fibronectin test to determine if she is having preterm labor and might deliver her baby early. A fetal fibronectin test, also known as FFN, is a simple and quick test. A positive result doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll deliver a preterm baby, but a negative result means it is highly unlikely you’ll deliver in the next week or two.
According to MD Guidelines, preterm labor is defined as the onset of labor contractions before 37 weeks of gestation. In preterm labor, contractions are intense and frequent enough to result in the cervical dilation and effacement that normally precedes birth. It is often difficult to diagnose preterm labor solely based on a pregnant woman’s symptoms and/or a vaginal exam to assess the cervix for dilation and effacement.
This is where a FFN test can be useful. FFN is a protein produced by your baby that acts as a glue, attaching the fetal sac to the uterine lining. It is normal to find FFN in the vagina during early pregnancy and then again later in pregnancy about one to three weeks before labor begins. If it is found between 24 and 34 weeks, it can mean that the glue is disintegrating, possibly from contractions, and you may be at increased risk for preterm labor.
The test is easily done in your practitioner’s office. A speculum is placed in the vagina and a cotton swab is used to gently swipe the cervical canal. Results are typically available within 24 hours, and much sooner if performed in a hospital setting. The test can be repeated every 2 weeks if necessary.
Once again, a positive result does not mean you are in preterm labor and/or you will deliver a preterm baby. It does mean there is fetal fibronectin present in your vagina. Your practitioner will evaluate your entire physical and pregnancy history and make recommendations. Often you are put on bed rest or some form of limited activity. You might need to stop working and/or find childcare to assist with your other children at home. If you are having contractions, medication may be ordered. A steroid for your baby’s lung maturity, Betamethasone, may be ordered as well. A vaginal ultrasound is often performed to determine the length of your cervix.
If the result is negative, you do not have fetal fibronectin in your vagina, and it is unlikely you will deliver in the next week or two. Depending on your symptoms and cervical exam, little or nothing might be done.
Regardless of your results, it is important to be mindful of the signs of preterm labor, and notify your health care provider if you have concerns.
Prompt attention can possibly prevent you from having a preterm birth.
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Donna Barnett is a veteran health care provider, having worked in the healthcare industry since 1982. Through her relationship with USANA Health Sciences, she has taken her passion for health to a new level, teaching her clients how to lead a healthier lifestyle. She teaches a 4-week series on maximizing your health through proper nutrition, moderate exercise, and high quality supplementation as well as a 12-week course on weight loss. Finally, she has published a number of entertaining YouTube videos on the benefits of nutritional supplementation. For additional information, or to contact Donna, leave a comment below.