Treatments and drugs

By Mayo Clinic Staff

For some women, a surgical procedure known as cervical cerclage can help prevent premature birth. During this procedure, the cervix is stitched closed with strong sutures. Typically, the sutures are removed when the baby is considered full term — during week 37 of pregnancy. If necessary, the sutures can be removed earlier. Cervical cerclage might be recommended if you're less than 24 weeks pregnant, you have a history of early premature birth and an ultrasound shows that your cervix is opening. However, cervical cerclage isn't recommended if you're in active preterm labor.

If you're less than 34 weeks pregnant and in active preterm labor, your health care provider might recommend hospitalization. In addition, your health care provider might give you medications to temporarily halt preterm labor or promote your baby's readiness for birth, including:

  • Corticosteroids. If you're between weeks 24 and 34, your health care provider might recommend an injection of potent steroids in the form of betamethasone (Celestone) or dexamethasone to speed your baby's lung maturity. After week 34, your baby's lungs might be mature enough for delivery without steroids.
  • Tocolytics. Your health care provider might give you a medication called a tocolytic to temporarily stop your contractions. Tocolytics, which can be given orally or as injections, aren't likely to halt preterm labor for longer than two to seven days because they don't address the underlying cause of preterm labor. However, they might delay preterm labor long enough for corticosteroids to provide the maximum benefit or, if necessary, for you to be transported to a facility that can provide specialized care for your premature baby. If one type of tocolytic doesn't stop preterm labor, you might be given another type. Different tocolytics can cause different side effects for you and your baby. Your health care provider can help you weigh the risks and benefits. In addition, your health care provider won't recommend a tocolytic if you have certain conditions, such as a specific problem with your placenta.

If you're not hospitalized, you might need to schedule weekly visits with your health care provider so he or she can monitor signs and symptoms of preterm labor.

Aside from starting too early, preterm labor typically resembles normal labor. If relaxation and breathing techniques aren't enough to control the pain, ask for relief. Your health care provider might recommend an epidural block, a spinal block or other options.

Feb. 24, 2012