Gel Can Prevent An Early Delivery

Hormone treatment reduces chance of preterm birth

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) If you’re expecting or plan on getting pregnant, there’s treatment that can help you have a safer, longer pregnancy. A vaginal hormone gel may prevent premature births, which can help women who have a short cervix and are at risk for delivering prematurely, according to a new study.

Researchers pooled data from five studies and found that vaginal progesterone treatment reduces the rate of preterm births by 42% before 33 weeks of pregnancy. Preterm birth is when a woman delivers before 37 weeks. A full-term pregnancy lasts 40 weeks.

It also reduces complications such as respiratory illness in newborns and low birth weight, says the study, which was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

"Prenatal care is essential, keep appointments with your obstetrician. "

Progesterone gel is safe for women, says study co-author Dr. John O’Brien, division chief of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at the University of Kentucky in a press release. Progesterone is a naturally occurring hormone that helps a woman stay pregnant by keeping the cervix closed and stops the uterine muscles from contracting, which prevents the onset of labor.

The research team studied 775 women in mid-trimester pregnancy, all of whom had a short cervix, defined as a length of 25 millimeters or less. Some women were given vaginal progesterone while others were given a placebo or no treatment.

Doctors found that applying vaginal progesterone also reduced the rate of premature delivery in women women at less than 28, 32 and 35 weeks, though not as significantly as in women less than 33 weeks pregnant. This means that the hormone gel can reduce both “early” and “late” preterm births.

“Early” preterm births – occurring before 32 weeks of pregnancy – pose risks to the baby, including a greater risk for mental retardation, behavior problems, cerebral palsy, and breathing and digestive problems.

The researchers report that the dosage of vaginal progesterone given to the women made no difference; it was effective at reducing preterm birth in doses of either 90-100 mg a day or 200 mg a day.

Dr. O’Brien stated that there had been little progress in preventing premature births, and this study is important because it shows that it’s possible to detect and provide effective treatment to prevent early births.

The study’s authors advise women to have their cervix measured by ultrasound so they know if they’re at risk for preterm birth. They recommend that this procedure be performed in pregnant women at 19 to 24 weeks pregnant.

They say that vaginal progesterone should be used to prevent preterm birth in all women with a short cervix, though it appears to be more effective in women with one fetus (not multiples) and with a cervical length between 10 mm and 22 mm.

More than a half million babies in the U.S. – or 1 in 8 – are born premature every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the past 25 years, the preterm birth rate in the U.S. has jumped 36%. Experts think this may be due, in part, to increased use of fertility treatments.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 20, 2011
Last Updated:
December 20, 2011