More than 4 million babies are born each year in the USA. We would like to usher them into a world as safe and sound as we can. This means a full term pregnancy among many other factors.
If your baby is born before you've completed at least 37 weeks of pregnancy, they will be considered “preterm.” In the U.S., this happens in about 12 percent of births. It may seem like a good idea, because you may be ready for the baby to come, especially if you have had some issues with your pregnancy, but it is better to tough it out. It is really worth it in the long run. These babies often have more health problems and have to stay in the hospital longer than fetuses that make it to full-term, and the earlier they are born, the more problems they are likely to have. Pre-term births are also more likely if you are having more than one baby. In twins and triplets the chances for an early delivery are greatly increased. It would be nice for everyone to have perfect little healthy babies. Luckily, there is a hormone that may be able to help keep mothers from giving birth preterm: progesterone.
Progesterone isn't just some random hormone. The hormone is responsible for many natural preparations and plays a large role in pregnancy right from the beginning, when it aids in the growth of your uterus so that there will be enough room for the fetus, and also prevents it from contracting. This last part is especially important because when a uterus contracts in the early stages of pregnancy, it can cause a miscarriage. Later on, progesterone prepares your body in other ways, such as making your lungs work more so that your baby has enough oxygen and getting your breasts ready to produce breast milk.
What causes preterm birth?
Though it is not the only factor involved, women with short cervixes (25 mm or less) have a 50 percent chance of giving birth preterm. The cervix is the part of the uterus that opens up during labor to allow the baby to pass through. For most women, this is a fairly long, slow process as the cervix gradually shortens and thins before opening. But in women with short cervixes, they may open too early and lead to preterm birth. Typically, short cervixes are discovered during ultrasounds, and if you are worried about the possibility of a preterm birth, you can even request an ultrasound specifically to look at the length of your cervix. This can address any issues beforehand so you are not surprised by any complications later in your pregnancy.
How can progesterone help?
Progesterone is available to pregnant women via shots and vaginal gel. In recent studies, patients who were administered either form of the hormone were less likely to experience a preterm birth than those who only received a placebo. Significantly, one study that focused solely on the vaginal gel found that both “early” and “late” preterm births were reduced. This is important because of the increased level of medical difficulties found, especially in “early” preterm births.
Generally speaking, progesterone shots are only recommended for women who have already experienced a preterm birth when they were pregnant with a single baby. This treatment should begin somewhere between 16 and 20 weeks of pregnancy and continue until 37 weeks. These shots haven't shown any side effects and cause no discomfort other than that associated with the shot itself. This is great, and can help out a lot of families. There are those with hopes of not using extra drugs and that is fine, but if you have complications or a history in your family then it can help your chances of a healthy child.
If you have not already experienced a preterm birth with a single baby, the gel is the preferred method. It comes in an applicator very similar to a tampon, and you place one gel pack into your vagina each day. Ideally, this treatment should begin somewhere between 20 and 23 weeks of pregnancy and can continue until right before 37 weeks.
Both of these methods are considered safe and effective, without any complications or problems – provided that you are only carrying a single baby. Women carrying twins, triplets, or more should not use progesterone treatment because it has actually increased the likelihood of problems in some cases. If you are interested in progesterone treatment or have further questions, the best person to talk to is your doctor. Your doctor has all the right information and ultimately he should be the one taking care of your baby and its needs. If you are having any complications with any of these methods it is important that you speak to your doctor in order to make sure everything is ok with your pregnancy. You do not want to take any chances with your new little boy or girl, that is for sure.
Making sure your hormones are well balanced and your uterus is healthy and big enough to hold your new child is very important to a successful pregnancy. These things can also make sure your baby comes at the time it is supposed to as well. The end goal is a healthy baby and doctors are going to want to aid that in any way possible. Progesterone can help with these things and more and mothers at risk should be well informed so they can take advantage of it.