Preterm labor, which is also called premature labor, occurs when a pregnant woman’s body begins preparing to give birth more than three weeks prior to her projected due date. Preterm labor can and does lead to premature birth, but this isn’t always necessarily the case – doctors have ways of delaying preterm labor birth as long as possible in order to provide additional time for a child to develop within the womb. This will reduce the possibility of the child being born with injuries or complications related to premature birth.
Risk Factors for Preterm Labor
While there’s nothing that will definitively trigger a preterm labor birth, there are a number of risk factors that could lead to a pregnant woman going into premature labor. Many of these risk factors are also associated with other birth and pregnancy problems such as placental injuries like placental abruptions or placenta previa. These risk factors include:
- Smoking tobacco products
- Being either very overweight or very underweight before pregnancy
- Poor prenatal care
- Drinking alcohol or taking street drugs
- Health conditions like high blood pressure (preeclampsia) or diabetes
- Carrying an infant implanted through in-vitro fertilization
- Carrying more than one infant, such as twins or triplets
- Having either a family history or a personal history of preterm birth
Preterm Labor Birth Symptoms
While it can sometimes become difficult to tell symptoms of preterm birth labor apart from the normal aches and pains of pregnancy, there are several different warning signs to look out for when it comes down to identifying whether someone is undergoing premature labor. These symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- Contractions that occur at least every ten minutes, or even sooner
- A backache in the lower back that is persistent and won’t fade with changing positions
- Cramps that feel like menstruation cramps in the lower abdomen
- Fluid leaking from the vagina, including vaginal bleeding or vaginal discharge
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or any other flu-like symptoms
When to Go to the Hospital
If you suspect you may be experiencing preterm birth, you should take careful note of any contractions you might be feeling. Pregnant women often have to deal with Braxton-Hicks contractions, more commonly known as false labor pains. These differ from actual labor contractions in that Braxton-Hicks are much more erratic and are liable to stop after a modicum of movement. Real contractions on the other hand either remain steady or slowly but surely begin to come closer together. Additionally, legitimate contractions will not go away if a pregnant woman shifts her position or gets up and walks around.
At this point, if you still suspect that these contractions may be genuine and you’re going into premature labor it’s typically then time to call your doctor or midwife. They will listen to your symptoms and then tell you if you need to come into the hospital. In the event that your labor is extremely early, steps may be taken in order to halt or prolong your preterm labor to allow your child to develop as much as possible before emerging out into the world. Doctors may also begin administering medication designed to strengthen your child’s lungs so that they can breathe more easily in the event of a premature birth. Taking all of these steps help to reduce the risk of medical conditions associated with premature birth that could threaten your child’s health and necessitate him or her remaining in the NICU for several days or even weeks prior to being born prematurely.