Preterm labour, defined as delivery before 37 weeks of completed pregnancy, continues to present a major problem in clinical obstetrics and remains the major contributory factor to the perinatal mortality and morbidity statistics. While it is now possible, with recent advances in neonatal care, to take infants delivered very prematurely and provide them with the lifelines that will ensure their ultimate discharge from the neonatal intensive care nursery, the cost of this form of management – in terms both of health care funds and of emotion – is extraordinarily high. Hence there remains a strong rationale for attempting to understand the underlying biochemistry and physiology of labour in order to develop methods of recognizing the patient in true preterm labour, and of developing better strategies to prevent or to manage this condition. In the best of our neonatal intensive care settings, survival of the infant born at 28–30 weeks’ gestation, or greater than 1500 grams, may be greater than 90%. Thus, the clinical management strategy may be directed more towards sustaining intrauterine life for 4–6 weeks in those patients presenting in preterm labour before this time in order to gain time for intrauterine maturation of these fetuses before they are delivered to the tertiary care NICU setting.