Last updated date: 05-Jun-2023
Originally Written in English
Preterm Labor: Are you at risk?
Preterm labor is a condition in which a pregnant woman experiences regular contractions and cervical changes before 37 weeks of pregnancy. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including infection, certain medical conditions, and lifestyle factors such as smoking or stress. Preterm labor can lead to premature birth, which may result in health complications for the baby such as respiratory distress syndrome, jaundice, and infection.
What is Preterm Labor?
Preterm labor is a condition in which regular contractions of the uterus lead to cervical changes (such as dilation and effacement) and subsequent delivery of the baby before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Preterm labor is a concern because babies born before this gestational age are at higher risk of complications, such as respiratory distress syndrome, bleeding in the brain, and developmental delays.
Women who are at higher risk for preterm labor may be monitored more closely during pregnancy, and may be advised to take certain precautions to help reduce the risk of preterm delivery.
What causes Preterm Labor?
There are several factors that can contribute to preterm labor, including:
- Infections: Infections in the uterus, cervix, or amniotic sac can cause inflammation and lead to preterm labor.
- Changes in hormone levels: Changes in the levels of hormones that help regulate pregnancy, such as progesterone, can trigger preterm labor.
- Cervical incompetence: When the cervix opens too early in pregnancy, it can cause preterm labor.
- Placental problems: When the placenta is not working properly, it can cause preterm labor.
- Chronic conditions: Certain chronic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, and preeclampsia, can increase the risk of preterm labor.
- Multiple gestations: Women who are pregnant with twins, triplets, or other multiples are at higher risk of preterm labor.
- Lifestyle factors: Factors such as smoking, drug use, poor nutrition, and stress can increase the risk of preterm labor.
It's important to note that in many cases, the cause of preterm labor is unknown. However, identifying and managing risk factors, as well as getting prompt medical attention if symptoms of preterm labor occur, can help reduce the risk of preterm delivery and improve outcomes for both the mother and the baby.
What are the signs and symptoms of Preterm labor?
The signs and symptoms of preterm labor can include:
- Contractions: Regular contractions that occur every 10 minutes or more frequently can be a sign of preterm labor. These contractions may feel like menstrual cramps or a tightening in the lower abdomen or back.
- Change in vaginal discharge: An increase in vaginal discharge or a change in its color or consistency can be a sign of preterm labor.
- Pelvic pressure: A feeling of pressure or heaviness in the pelvic area can be a sign of preterm labor.
- Low back pain: Pain or discomfort in the lower back, especially if it is new or different from the usual back pain of pregnancy, can be a sign of preterm labor.
- Abdominal cramps: Cramping in the lower abdomen, similar to menstrual cramps, can be a sign of preterm labor.
- Flu-like symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and other flu-like symptoms can be a sign of preterm labor.
- Vaginal bleeding: Bleeding or spotting from the vagina can be a sign of preterm labor.
How is Preterm labor diagnosed?
Preterm labor can be diagnosed by evaluating the mother's symptoms, conducting a physical exam, and monitoring the baby's heart rate. The following tests may also be done to confirm preterm labor:
- Fetal fibronectin test: This test involves swabbing the cervix to check for the presence of fetal fibronectin, a protein that is produced during pregnancy. A positive test result, along with symptoms of preterm labor, can indicate that labor may be imminent.
- Cervical length measurement: This test uses ultrasound to measure the length of the cervix. A short cervix may indicate a higher risk of preterm labor.
- Contractions monitoring: Contractions are monitored for frequency and duration to determine whether preterm labor is occurring.
- Ultrasound: An ultrasound may be done to evaluate the baby's growth and check for signs of distress.
- Amniotic fluid test: An amniotic fluid test involves checking the level of amniotic fluid surrounding the baby. A low level of amniotic fluid may indicate preterm labor.
It's important to seek medical attention right away if any symptoms of preterm labor occur. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment can help prevent premature delivery and improve outcomes for both the mother and the baby.
How do doctors manage Preterm labor?
The management of preterm labor depends on several factors, including the gestational age of the fetus, the mother's overall health, and the severity of the symptoms. The goal of treatment is to prevent premature delivery and promote the best possible outcome for both the mother and the baby. Here are some common management strategies:
- Medications: Doctors may use medications to help slow or stop preterm labor, such as tocolytics to relax the uterine muscles, or corticosteroids to speed up fetal lung maturation.
- Bed rest: In some cases, bed rest may be recommended to help reduce the risk of premature delivery.
- Monitoring: Regular monitoring of the mother and baby's vital signs, as well as fetal heart rate, can help doctors detect signs of distress and take appropriate action.
- Cervical cerclage: A cervical cerclage is a surgical procedure in which a stitch is placed around the cervix to help keep it closed and prevent premature delivery.
- Delivery: In some cases, it may be necessary to deliver the baby early if the mother's or baby's health is at risk.
- Neonatal intensive care: If the baby is born prematurely, they may require care in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to help them grow and develop until they are ready to go home.
How can I prevent going into Labor early?
Preventing preterm labor is not always possible, but there are some steps you can take to help reduce your risk of premature delivery. Here are some tips:
- Get regular prenatal care: Regular prenatal care is essential for a healthy pregnancy. Make sure to attend all scheduled appointments with your healthcare provider, and discuss any concerns you may have.
- Eat a healthy diet: Eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help promote a healthy pregnancy.
- Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water and fluids can help prevent dehydration, which can increase the risk of preterm labor.
- Manage chronic conditions: If you have any chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, or thyroid disorders, make sure to work with your healthcare provider to manage them properly.
- Avoid risky behaviors: Avoid smoking, using drugs, and drinking alcohol during pregnancy, as these can increase the risk of preterm labor.
- Reduce stress: High levels of stress can increase the risk of preterm labor, so try to find ways to manage stress, such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises.
- Practice safe sex: Sex during pregnancy is generally safe, but talk to your healthcare provider about any concerns you may have. Certain sexually transmitted infections can increase the risk of preterm labor.
If you have a history of preterm labor or other risk factors for premature delivery, talk to your healthcare provider about additional steps you can take to reduce your risk.
When should you contact your healthcare provider about preterm labor?
If you experience any signs or symptoms of preterm labor, you should contact your healthcare provider right away.
Some of the common signs and symptoms of preterm labor include:
- Contractions that occur every 10 minutes or more frequently
- Menstrual-like cramping in the lower abdomen
- Dull ache in the lower back
- Pelvic pressure or a feeling that the baby is pushing down
- Change in vaginal discharge, such as an increase in amount or change in color
- Bleeding or spotting from the vagina
- Fluid leaking from the vagina
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, call your healthcare provider immediately. Your healthcare provider may ask you to come in for an evaluation, which may include a cervical exam, ultrasound, or fetal monitoring. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may be instructed to rest, limit your activity, or go to the hospital for further evaluation and treatment.
What Happens if My Baby Is Born Early?
If your baby is born early, there are many things that can happen, and the outcome will depend on how early the baby is born and their overall health status. Here are some of the possible scenarios:
- Preterm labor: If you go into labor before 37 weeks of pregnancy, this is known as preterm labor. Your doctor will try to stop the labor if possible, or they may give you medication to help your baby's lungs mature before delivery.
- Premature birth: If your baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, they are considered premature. Premature babies may need to spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to receive specialized care until they are strong enough to go home.
- Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS): Premature babies are at risk of developing RDS, a condition in which their lungs are not fully developed and they have difficulty breathing. Treatment may include oxygen therapy, medication, and mechanical ventilation.
- Jaundice: Premature babies are also at risk of developing jaundice, a condition in which their skin and eyes turn yellow due to high levels of bilirubin in the blood. Treatment may include phototherapy (exposure to special lights) or exchange transfusions.
- Infection: Premature babies are at higher risk of developing infections due to their immature immune systems. They may need to receive antibiotics or other treatments to prevent or treat infections.
Preterm labor is a serious concern for pregnant women, as it can lead to premature birth and potential health complications for the baby. If you are experiencing symptoms of preterm labor, such as contractions, pelvic pressure, or lower back pain, it's important to contact your healthcare provider right away. Your provider may be able to stop the labor if caught early enough, or they may provide treatments to help your baby's lungs mature before delivery. By working closely with your healthcare provider and following their recommendations, you can help ensure the best possible outcome for you and your baby.