According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) one in every eight babies in the U.S. is born premature annually. Preterm or premature babies are less than 37 weeks old. A full term birth is 40 weeks. Babies born too early have a higher risk of developmental issues, breathing difficulties, death and other long-term health issues.
On April 6, 2011, U.S. researchers said infants born to high-risk women who used the hormone progesterone were less likely to born prematurely. Progesterone is a natural hormone. The progesterone vaginal gel cut the rate of preterm delivery by 45 percent and the infants were less likely to develop respiratory distress syndrome.
The study, published online in the journal Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology, raises hopes for high-risk pregnant women who have a short cervix.
Dr. Roberto Romero, chief of the perinatology research branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), said, "The study published today offers hope to women, families and children."
Researchers at 44 medical centers around the world and the NIH reviewed the study and the effects of giving pregnant women with a short cervix progesterone. The cervix opens and shortens during labor and is located at the bottom of the uterus.
The study comprised of 458 women who received either the vaginal gel or a placebo. They received the gel or placebo between their 19th and 23rd week of pregnancy.
Remarkably, only 8.9 percent of the women who received the progesterone gel delivered before the 33rd week of pregnancy. Nearly double, 16.1 percent, the amount of women who received the placebo delivered before the 33rd week of pregnancy.
Also, the premature babies seemed to benefit from the progesterone treatment. Only 3 percent of babies born had respiratory distress syndrome. In the placebo group 7.6 percent of babies had respiratory distress syndrome.
Researchers suspect a short cervix is a possible symptom of a shortage of progesterone.
According to Dr. Ashley Roman of New York University's Langone Medical Center, other studies have shown that progesterone reduces the risk of premature birth in women with short cervixes.