Obstetrics and Gynecology has just published the results of a decades-long study undertaken at Vanderbilt University, and they provide some valuable and fascinating information on the effects of progestogen therapy to help expecting mothers avoid giving birth prematurely.
What are Progestogens?
Progesterone is a hormone all women produce, but that production increases greatly during pregnancy. The term, “progestogens” refers to the group of hormones to which progesterone belongs. These hormones are responsible for regulating pregnancy, hence the name, which essentially means, “pro gestation.”
This is not the only purpose progestogens serve, but it is the most prominent one, and the one most relevant to the Vanderbilt study.
Both Natural and Synthetic Progestogens Were Analyzed
A total of 34 studies that had taken place from 1966 to 2011 made up the basis of the new Vanderbilt research. By compiling and analyzing this large amount of data, lead author Frances E. Likis, DrPH, N.P., CNM and her team were able to confirm that progestogen treatment can help prevent premature birth when given to expecting mothers who had already experienced preterm birth in a previous pregnancy.
This research isn’t yet concrete enough to be used to inform new treatments in other areas, or other aspects of progestogens’ usage. In Likis’s words, “The pharmaceutical effects are not well understood.”
Not Effective in Multiples?
Perhaps one of the most interesting findings of this new research is that the beneficial effects of progestogens during pregnancy do not seem to apply to multiples, meaning mothers pregnant with twins, triplets and larger numbers do not receive the preventative benefits that mothers pregnant with only a single child receive. The reasons for this remain unclear.
More Research Needed
Likis makes a point – a very important one – that this research only really offers data on the prevention of premature birth, and not the long-term effects on the fetus itself. She sees this as a huge area of opportunity (and necessity) for future research, and says that, “In order to find out what the complications related to progestogen therapy might be, a larger study is required.”
Preventing preterm birth isn’t the only therapeutic use for progestogens, so Likis is certainly correct that there is much more research to be undertaken in this area. It’s a field that bears watching.