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Preterm birth is a syndrome with many causes and phenotypes. We propose a classification system that is based on clinical phenotypes that are defined by >1 characteristics of the mother, the fetus, the placenta, the signs of parturition, and the pathway to delivery. Risk factors and mode of delivery are not included. There are 5 components in a preterm birth phenotype:

  1. Maternal conditions that are present before presentation for delivery,
  2. Fetal conditions that are present before presentation for delivery,
  3. Placental pathologic conditions,
  4. Signs of the initiation of parturition, and,
  5. The pathway to delivery

This system does not force any preterm birth into a predefined phenotype and allows all relevant conditions to become part of the phenotype. Needed data can be collected from the medical records to classify every preterm birth. The classification system will improve understanding of the cause and improve surveillance across populations.