This is a question we received recently through the March of Dimes website. Preterm labor is labor that happens too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. If you have preterm labor, your health care provider may recommend some treatments that may help stop your contractions and prevent health problems in you and your baby.
There are three kinds of medicines your provider may give you if you’re having preterm labor:
Antenatal corticosteroids (also called ACS). These speed up your baby’s lung development. They also help reduce your baby’s chances of having certain health problems after birth, such as:
- respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), a condition that affects a baby’s breathing
- intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH), bleeding in the brain, and
- necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a condition that affects a baby’s intestines.
Antibiotics. These kill infections caused by bacteria. You may need antibiotics to help prevent infections in you and your baby if you have Group B strep infection or if you have preterm premature rupture of membranes (also called PPROM). PPROM is when the sac around your baby breaks before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Tocolytics. These slow or stop labor contractions. Tocolytics may delay labor, often for just a few days. There are many different types of tocolytics and not all of them are appropriate for everyone. If you have a health condition, like a heart problem or severe preeclampsia, some tocolytics may not be safe for you.
These treatments are not a guarantee to stop preterm labor. But if you’re having preterm labor, they may help you stay pregnant longer. Staying pregnant just a few days longer can be beneficial for your baby.
Make sure you know the signs of preterm labor:
- Contractions (your belly tightens like a fist) every 10 minutes or more often
- Change in vaginal discharge (leaking fluid or bleeding from your vagina)
- Pelvic pressure—the feeling that your baby is pushing down
- Low, dull backache
- Cramps that feel like your period
- Belly cramps with or without diarrhea
Call your health care provider or go to the hospital right away if you think you’re having preterm labor, or if you have any of the warning signs. Call even if you have only one sign. Early treatment may help stop preterm labor or delay it long enough so that you can get treatment with ACS or to get to a hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Learn more about preterm labor on our website.
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