Preterm Labor Medications

Medications for Preterm Labor and Other Treatments

Pregnant African woman taking vitamins
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Preterm labor is labor that begins before the 37th week of pregnancy. If you are at a higher risk of having preterm labor, your doctor or midwife has probably also talked to you about when to call their call line or call the hospital. If you have signs of preterm labor, you are more likely to get labor to stop if you get early treatment.

Preterm Labor Treatment

Treatment for preterm labor is aimed at reducing the likelihood of giving birth early.

If they can't delay the birth until the 37th week, they can at try to buy at least 48 hours. This will allow enough time to give you corticosteroids, which can help your baby gain some fetal lung maturity prior to birth. The steroids are most likely to be effective between 24-34 weeks gestation.

The first line of defense in preterm labor is typically going to be IV fluids since dehydration can be a cause of contractions. This is typically done in the hospital setting. If the contractions go away, you may go home to await normal labor. When you leave the hospital, however, it may be with restrictions such as bed rest.

Preterm Labor Medications

There are also medications that can be used to treat preterm labor. Which medication you get will depend on many factors including how far along you are, the reason that they suspect you are in labor, and other health factors.

Tocolytics are a class of medications to reduce contractions.

This can include:

  • terbutaline (Brethine)
  • nifedipine (Procardia)
  • magnesium sulfate and others

For many of these medications this is considered an off label use, but they have been used for many years, despite some controversy, because of the risks of premature birth.

These medications can cause side effects that are uncomfortable.

The side effects will depend on which medication is used. Some cause muscle weakness, other racing heart beat. Be sure to talk to your doctor about the benefits and tradeoffs as well as the side effects of each medication being used.

Other Preterm Labor Treatments

Other treatments may also be used to combat preterm labor. For example, if your doctor or midwife has identified that you are having contractions due to an infection, antibiotics will be used to try to attack the source of the problem - the infection. This may be used in combination with other medications as well, but simply treating the contractions, in the case of infection, is less likely to be effective at stopping labor.

Other medications that can be used include using progesterone based medications to help prevent and treat preterm labor. This is an area of study that has received a lot of attention in the last few years. Ask your practitioner for help in deciding if this treatment would be helpful.

There are also procedures like the cerclage that may help prevent you from giving birth too early.

This may be done as a planned procedure after a known complication in a previous pregnancy or because of something in your medical history. They will put an actual stitch in your cervix to hold it shut.


Preterm Labor. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Patient Education. July 2004.

King JF, Flenady VJ, Papatsonis DNM, Dekker GA, Carbonne B. Calcium channel blockers for inhibiting preterm labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD002255. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD002255.

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