Preventing Prematurity

Treating Preterm Labor

If your doctor believes you are in preterm labor, she or he may attempt to postpone delivery to give your baby more time to grow. Delaying delivery for a few days may not sound like much, but it can make a lifesaving difference for your baby. This extra time can also enable your doctor to make arrangements for you to deliver in a hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit.

Your physician may recommend additional treatments such as bed rest, antibiotics, or intravenous fluids (if you seem dehydrated). Though these options can't completely prevent preterm birth, a group of drugs called tocolytics can now delay delivery for two to seven days. Tocolytics have been shown to be most effective when given early in labor.

If you are less than 34 weeks pregnant, your doctor may suggest treatment with corticosteroids. These drugs work to speed the maturation of your baby's lungs and can significantly reduce the risk of serious complications and death. Corticosteriods are administered as maternal injections and have proven to be most effective when given at least 24 hours before delivery.

If you go into labor after 35 weeks, your doctor may choose not to delay your delivery. Babies born after this time generally do quite well, though they may need some extra medical care during the newborn period.

Chances are, you'll deliver a healthy full-term baby. But it's still important to understand prematurity. Reduce your risk by taking the necessary steps to protect yourself during pregnancy. When it comes to preterm labor, knowing what to expect can make all the difference for you and your baby.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, June 2004.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.


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