Preparing your baby for a premature birth

If you are in early premature labour, your healthcare team may try to slow down labour or delay the birth until later in your pregnancy.

If I am in labour why would my healthcare team want to stop or delay the birth?

If you go into early labour, and the healthcare team think your baby would benefit from delaying birth by a few hours or days, you may be offered a medication called tocolysis.

There are 2 main reasons for this:

  • you can take a course of corticosteroids (see below), to help your premature baby's lungs develop to reduce the risk of breathing problems
  • you can be transferred to a medical unit that can offer the right level of care for your baby's stage of development.

Tocolytics (medications used to suppress premature labour) are not usually recommended if you are having more than one baby because it’s not proven that it helps.

What is the treatment if it looks like I may give birth early? 

Sadly, babies that are born very prematurely are more likely to have health problems. To help reduce the risks, you may be offered the following medication to help get them ready for life outside the womb. 

Magnesium sulfate

Magnesium is used to protect your baby’s brain and reduce their risk of having problems, such as cerebal palsy. It is given as a single infusion into your vein and has some side effects, such as feeling thirsty, confused or drowsy. 

If you need to have magnesium sulphate for more than 5 to 7 days or several times during your pregnancy, your newborn baby may be offered extra checks. This is because prolonged use of magnesium sulphate in pregnancy has, in rare cases, been linked to bone problems in newborn babies. 


Corticosteriods can help your baby’s lungs develop. There are 2 injections, given 12-24 hours apart. Your midwife or doctor will discuss the benefits and risks with you.

Steroids probably will not be offered after 35 weeks as your baby's lungs are likely to be ready for breathing on their own. 


If your waters have broken early (PPROM), you may be offered intravenous antibiotics (where the antibiotics are given through a needle straight into a vein). This is to reduce the risk of early-onset group B strep infection


NICE (2019). Twin and triplet pregnancy. National Institute for health and care excellence

British National Formularly. Magnesium sulfate.,%2Fminute%20Mg2%2B)

NHS. Premature labour and birth. (Page last updated: 9 December 2020 Next review due: 9 December 2023)

NICE (2015). Preterm labour and birth. National Institute for health and care excellence

Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (2019) When your waters break prematurely

Review dates
Reviewed: 23 August 2021
Next review: 23 August 2024