Possible Help in Preventing Pre Term Babies

Reporter: Shannon Samson

There may be a new standard of treatment for pregnant women at risk for pre term delivery. That's if the March of Dimes and some other health organizations get their way. But it's going to take more research.

The closer to 40 weeks that a doctor can keep a child in the womb, the better the chances of delivering a healthy baby. What causes some women to have spontaneous preterm delivery is still largely a mystery, but there are others who are known to be at a higher risk. And hormone therapy may help.

The smallest of patients can spend months in the neonatal intensive care unit, leaving parents desperate to take their new arrivals home. In the last two decades, the rate of premature births has risen by almost a third.

Part of the reason is due to advances in both fertility treatments and neo-natal intensive care. Dr. Mureena Turnquest Wells says, "For example, a 24 week old may have been written off as just a non-viable baby. Now, it's being included in the statistics for premature delivery."

One statistic doctors are very aware of is this; women who have had one premature baby are at a 25 percent greater risk for having another one. A report in the latest issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology says weekly injections of a progesterone derivative known as 17-p could reduce these types of early deliveries by 33 percent. The authors estimate that's 10,000 babies spared from the NICU every year.

Still, Dr. Turnquest Wells doesn't use hormone therapy in her practice for what she feels is good reason. "There's only been one study published that has actually shown positive results and we don't know the long term implications of this drug to the fetus, the developing fetus. So, that's why I'm a little hesitant to use this drug without seeing a study that can duplicate these findings."

Plus, she says research needs to be done to see if hormone therapy helps more than just the mothers who've had preemies in the past. Will it also help women expecting multiples or first time moms with other risk factors?

Since there isn't one single cause for pre term delivery, she doubts there can be one treatment that will work for everyone.