: Preterm birth is a major public health problem, affecting up to 10% of pregnancies. The cause of premature labour in humans is not known, although some risk factors have been identified. Currently it is not possible to predict which women will go into labour prematurely or deliver preterm. New possible methods for the detection of premature labour are the measurement of biochemical markers in cervical or vaginal secretions, the measurement of collagen in cervical tissue and the recording of electrical properties of contractions of the uterus. Agents used to prevent premature labour include beta-agonist drugs, magnesium sulphate, calcium channel blockers, nitric oxide donors and prostaglandin synthesis inhibitors. A new approach is the use of oxytocin antagonists. Premature labour is still not completely understood, but some advances are being made, arising from basic research.