Prematurity Explained

How Is Preterm Labor Treated?

If you experience any signs of preterm labor, call your ob-gyn right away or go to the hospital. To see if you're really in labor, your doctor will do tests, including an internal exam that shows if your cervix has started to dilate. She may also perform a vaginal ultrasound to get a better look at your cervix and a vaginal swab to measure levels of fibronectin, a biological glue that helps attach the fetal sac to the uterine lining. Fibronectin is normally found in vaginal secretions during the first 22 weeks, and then not until one to three weeks before delivery. If none is detected, you're unlikely to deliver in the next two weeks. Fortunately, most women with possible signs of preterm labor go on to deliver at term.

If tests show you're in preterm labor, your doctor may treat you with tocolytics, medicines that can postpone delivery. The delay is only a couple of days but gives you time to take a dose of corticosteroids, which speed development of your baby's lungs and reduce the risk of serious newborn complications. These medications are recommended only if you're less than 34 weeks pregnant.

Originally published in the November 2008 issue of American Baby magazine.

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