Treating Preterm Labor
If you're experiencing possible signs of preterm labor, your doctor will probably recommend some tests. She will do an internal exam to see if your cervix has begun to dilate -- a sign that labor may be starting. She may also recommend a vaginal ultrasound to get a better look at your cervix and a vaginal swab to measure levels of fibronectin, which is a biological glue that helps the fetal sac attach 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 the vaginal swab done between 22 and 34 weeks shows fibronectin, you may be at increased risk of preterm labor.
If your doctor determines that you're in preterm labor, she may suggest treatment with one of several drugs called tocolytics. These drugs can postpone delivery for two to seven days, which may not sound like much, but even a few extra days in the womb can make a lifesaving difference for your baby. Delaying the baby's birth also gives your doctor time to schedule your delivery in a hospital with a neonatal intensive-care unit.
If you're less than 34 weeks pregnant, your doctor may treat you with corticosteroids. These drugs help speed the maturation of your baby's lungs and reduce the risk of serious newborn complications. If you go into labor after 35 weeks, your doctor may not attempt to delay delivery. Babies born after this time generally do well, though they may need some extra care during the newborn period.
It's most likely that you will deliver a healthy baby at full term. But premature birth is a serious and widespread problem in this country, and all pregnant women should learn how to protect their baby. The best way to do this is to be proactive about your health and get help right away if you experience any signs of preterm labor.