The new quality standard highlights the key areas where preterm labour and birth services need to improve.
Studies show the risk of cerebral palsy in babies is significantly lower when women who may give birth early are treated with magnesium sulfate, which can protect developing babies’ brains.
The standard also calls for women who have previously lost a baby mid-trimester or had a previous preterm birth to be offered treatment to prevent the cervix opening early to delay labour and birth.
Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive of NICE, said: “We know the risks of long-term developmental problems are greater the earlier a baby is born.
“This quality standard highlights key issues, originally raised in the NICE guideline on Preterm labour and birth, where care needs to improve.
“For instance the quality standard calls for greater use of magnesium sulfate in women at risk of a preterm birth, which we know has significant potential to reduce disability among babies born preterm.”
The guidance also recommends certain pregnant women are offered maternal corticosteroids, which help with babies’ lung development.
Professor Sam Oddie, consultant neonatologist at Bradford Royal Infirmary and member of the quality standard advisory committee, said: “This new quality standard will help midwives and obstetricians provide even better care to pregnant women who are going to give birth early.
“I am particularly excited by the statement on magnesium sulfate and offering treatments to stop the cervix opening early, I think these treatments will help some babies a great deal.”
Preterm birth, or birth before 37 weeks, is the biggest cause of neonatal mortality and morbidity in the UK. In 2013 more than 40,000 babies or 7% of live births were born preterm in England and Wales.