Signs of Preterm Labor

Premature labor occurs when you are less than 37 weeks pregnant and experience regular contractions which opens the cervix for delivery. If you give birth to your baby before 37 weeks of your pregnancy, the baby is called premature and it is called a preterm birth. However, not all preterm labors result in premature babies. Premature labor can stop itself and you can have a safe delivery after 37 weeks. About 30%-50% of women who show symptoms of preterm labor deliver healthy babies after 37 weeks.

6 Signs of Preterm Labor

You need to pay attention and recognize the early symptoms of preterm labor so that you can take appropriate steps to ensure a safe delivery. All the following symptoms need to be investigated thoroughly by the doctor.

  • A constant lower back pain, a primary symptom, which does not ease in spite of changing positions or trying to distract yourself
  • Regular contractions, which could be 10 minutes apart or even more often
  • Abdominal cramps similar to gas cramps that may accompany diarrhea
  • Certain flu-like symptoms including nausea and vomiting or diarrhea weeks before your due date, which could indicate preterm labors
  • An increased pressure on your vagina or pelvic regions, which could indicate preterm labor
  • Some vaginal discharge or leaking of fluids, or sometimes even bleeding

Risk Factors of Preterm Labor

The exact causes of preterm labor are unknown; however, there are many factors that could contribute to a premature labor:

  • If there are birth defects in the baby;
  • If you suffer from very high physical or mental stress, have a history of preterm birth or are carrying twins;
  • If you had ever undergone cervical surgeries like LEEP or the cone biopsy;
  • If you are suffering from hypertension, or have infections in the placenta surrounding the baby or in your blood;
  • If you happen to smoke a lot or use drugs like cocaine or amphetamines,
  • You are obese or are underweight during your pregnancy;
  • If you have complications with your internal organs like placenta, cervix or uterus, which may include cervical incompetence, abnormally shaped uterus, poor placental function and/or its abruption or placenta previa;
  • If you have high amounts of amniotic fluid, your bag breaks early, or you have faced bleeding in your first trimester, you could undergo contractions early in your pregnancy and show signs of preterm labor.

How to Deal With Preterm Labor

Preterm labor could be a cause of concern if it is not taken care of immediately. However there are many ways, as described below, in which your doctor can help deal with it.

1. Cervical Cerclage

Sometimes, cervical cerclage can help to avoid preterm labor. In this procedure, your cervix is stitched with strong sutures to prevent it from opening further. These stitches are removed when you have reached 37 weeks of pregnancy and the baby is full term. Sometimes, they can even be removed earlier if required.

This method is recommended if you are less than 24 weeks pregnancy or have a history of preterm labor and the ultrasound scan has shown that your cervix is slowly dilating. It is also recommended if you have a cervical length of 25 millimeters or less.

2. Hospitalization

Your doctor may also suggest hospitalization if you show signs of preterm labor before 34 weeks of pregnancy. Some pain relief can also be provided if required. If you are not hospitalized, you still need to visit the hospital weekly or even more frequently to help your doctor monitor the various symptoms of premature labor.

3. Take Medication

Your doctor could also prescribe medications to delay or halt your labor, or to help your baby get ready for birth.

  • Corticosteroids are commonly used medicines. An injection of these steroids is administered to you if you are between 24-34 weeks of pregnancy, to speed up your baby's lung development and maturity. Once you reach 34 weeks in your pregnancy, your baby's lungs would have developed sufficiently to aid in delivery without steroids.
  • Magnesium sulfate may also be prescribed in many cases to reduce the risk of brain damage like cerebral palsy in babies born before 32 weeks.
  • Tocolytics, sometimes, are prescribed to halt your contractions. These can only delay your preterm labor for 2 days. However, even this delay is very useful at such times as it could buy time for your corticosteroids to provide maximal benefits or help you to be shifted to a hospital. However, these medications are not prescribed if you are suffering from high blood pressure.

How Does Preterm Labor Affect My Baby?

Your baby would develop better and be healthier if it spends longer time in your womb. Preterm labor may affect your baby negatively in the following ways that's why you should take action when you notice signs of preterm labor.

  • If your baby has born prematurely, he or she could be at high risks of having sight or hearing disabilities or having brain or other neurological complications like cerebral palsy.
  • Premature babies also have to face many digestive issues or lung-related respiratory problems, could have a delay in development, and even suffer from learning disabilities and autism
  • Only half of the babies that are born before 24 weeks of pregnancy can survive; but the remaining half could either die or have permanent problems in life. However, babies that are born after 32 weeks in hospitals with a NICU (a neonatal intensive care unit) facility have very high survival rates with low complications.

Watch the following video to know more about preterm labor, labor contractions, etc.

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