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New Hope in Preventing Preterm Labor

There's new hope for women who are at high risk for delivering their baby early. A recent groundbreaking study found that the hormone progesterone reduced the risk of preterm birth by 34 percent in women who had a prior one. "Premature labor is the biggest problem that we have in caring for pregnant women, and this is the first hint of some effective treatment to prevent it," according to Paul Meis, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and lead researcher of the study.

Two-thirds of the women in the study were given weekly injections of 17P, a derivative of progesterone, starting at 16 to 18 weeks of pregnancy until 36 weeks. In these women, the risk of preterm birth before week 37 was reduced by 34 percent, and the risk before week 32 was reduced by 42 percent.

It's not clear why the hormone helps, but it may be because it's a smooth muscle relaxant that inhibits contractions and reduces inflammation. While the research has not yet been published, the study was halted early due to the success of the treatment. Because the drug is widely available and considered safe for pregnant women, doctors could begin prescribing it now, says Dr. Meis, who uses it in his clinic for women who have a history of premature birth. If you delivered a previous child early, you may want to discuss the findings with your doctor.