Each week of pregnancy is important for your baby’s development – right up to the time he reaches full term, between 37-40 weeks gestation.
Some women, however, are unable to carry their babies to full term and deliver early (preterm births). In fact, 1 in 9 babies is born prematurely, according to the March of Dimes. Prematurity can lead to potential health and development problems for these infants.
For pregnant women who are at risk for delivering prematurely, an evidence-based treatment approach may reduce their chances of having a preterm birth. Below are some common questions – and answers – about this treatment, called progesterone supplementation.
What is progesterone?
Progesterone is a type of hormone, or a chemical produced naturally by the body. These chemicals direct the body’s cells and tissues to perform certain functions. Progesterone is involved with directing a pregnant woman’s body to go into labor. For example, in a typical pregnancy progesterone is involved in stimulating the uterus to grow to accommodate a developing baby, as well as keeping the uterus from contracting.
What is progesterone treatment?
Progesterone treatment mimics the body’s hormone production and may reduce at-risk women’s chances of having another preterm birth.
Treatments come in 2 forms:
- Daily vaginal progesterone, in the form of suppositories
- Weekly progesterone shots
Who is eligible to receive progesterone treatment?
In general, women who’ve had a previous preterm birth due to preterm labor or rupture of membranes or those who fit into certain risk categories, such as having a short cervix, are eligible to receive progesterone treatment. Currently, women who are pregnant with multiple babies are not advised to receive progesterone treatment.
Talk to your healthcare provider for more specific information about whether progesterone treatment might be right for you.
Are there any side effects from progesterone treatment?
For those receiving a progesterone shot, there may be some localized discomfort at the place of injection. But this discomfort tends to be brief and subside quickly. The alternative is vaginal progesterone, which the patient will need to use daily – it comes as a suppository.
Are progesterone treatments safe?
This treatment is recommended for at-risk pregnant women by 2 venerable organizations including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine. The March of Dimes points out that “research on babies of moms who took the shots shows no increase in birth defects or developmental problems in the first 4 years of life.”
Do progesterone treatments always prevent preterm births?
Not always – but progesterone treatments have been shown to reduce the risk of preterm labor by as much as 45 percent.
Are progesterone treatments covered by health insurance?
Private health insurance and state Medicaid programs may cover the cost for treatment. Speak with a representative from your health insurance plan with specific questions.
Along with progesterone treatments are there other ways to prevent premature birth for at-risk women?
Birth spacing can also be beneficial in reducing a woman’s risk of another preterm birth. Having at least 18 months between delivery and conception of another baby is advised. This spacing allows a woman’s body time to heal and for nutrients in the body to be replenished before the woman becomes pregnant again.
How do I find out more about progesterone treatments?
You can visit the March of Dimes. Also, talk to your healthcare provider about progesterone treatments. This is especially important if you’ve had a premature baby in the past. Your current healthcare provider may even recommend or refer you to a provider who specializes in high-risk pregnancies.
Dr. Elena Rossi recently attended the 2014 Ohio Infant Mortality Summit where the public, the media, legislators, and individuals and organizations across Ohio, came together to discuss ideas on raising awareness and statewide steps to help improve birth outcomes.