A dear friend of mine has a quote that bears repeating: “in simplicity, there is genius.” Such can be said about the mineral compound, magnesium sulfate (commonly known as Epsom salt).

In the world of obstetrics, magnesium sulfate or “mag” sulfate ranks high as an invaluable tool that has helped both obstetricians and their patients for almost 50 years.  Magnesium sulfate is the first line of defense in a pregnant woman with pre-eclampsia, a condition that includes high blood pressure, swelling and protein in the urine.  Magnesium sulfate is given to reduce the possibility of having a stroke or bleeding in the brain, and it is also given to delay or reduce episodes of premature contractions. Untreated or unsuccessful treatment of premature contractions can lead to premature births which accounts for 12.6 percent of all U.S. births. The advances in technology have improved the survival rate of infants who weigh less than two pounds but have also created new challenges. Low birth weight infants have a five-time greater chance of developing cerebral palsy than babies who are born full-term.

Cerebral palsy is a condition that affects body movement and muscle coordination. It usually occurs when there has been damage to the brain that has occurred before, during or after birth. 35 percent of cerebral palsy cases are caused by preterm births but all is not lost. Recent medical studies have demonstrated that mothers of preemies weighing less than 3 pounds or born before 32 weeks were protected from developing cerebral palsy if they received magnesium sulfate. How amazing. Less is sometimes more. Back in April, I discussed how a cooling blanket can prevent brain damage to a full-term newborn with low APGAR scores and it now appears that magnesium sulfate can do the same for preemies.

As an obstetrician, I am grateful and humbled by these new developments. An “imperfect” beginning can still have a happy ending. Thank you, magnesium sulfate.