Premature deliveries can result in serious complications. If a baby is delivered weeks or even months before it should be delivered-say about 40 weeks, bad things can and do happen: The baby may need to be hospitalized for weeks or even months;brain, lung, gut injury can occur; lifetime disabilities may result and a boat load of money is consumed. What if there were a way to help prevent such catastrophes?

Progesterone is the hormone which nurtures the developing fetus by providing a healthy environment inside the womb. The fetus can chill, as it develops all the goodies necessary to sustain it outside the uterus. Sometimes levels of this wonder hormone are either low or drop to low levels. This often results in an early or premature delivery.

It turns out the one reliable sign of a progesterone needy state is a short cervix. The cervix sits at the outer end of the uterus, a kind of valve which holds the precious contents inside. Lack of progesterone, it seems causes the cervix to be shorter than average. And thank God there have been some dedicated researchers, perhaps with a tad OCD, who measured hundreds upon hundreds of cervices. How did they measure the length? Ultrasound machines are very accurate in determining uterus and cervical sizes.

If a short cervix results from low progesterone, why not give those women with short cervices some progesterone and hope that this would prevent premature delivery?  Sure enough, researchers just did that. An amazing 50% reduction in the expected number of premature births occurred. The progesterone was given as a vaginal suppository about half way through the pregnancy.

There are of course other problems which can lead to a premature delivery. These include a urine infection, anatomical abnormalities, and problems with the fetus such as congenital disease.

Given these impressive results, all pregnant women should ideally be screened for a short cervix. For those who do, a little progesterone might go a long way in preventing later heartache.