Early Pregnancy and Preterm Labor
What is Preterm Labor?
Preterm labor is usually defined as having regular contractions and dilation of your cervix before the 37th week of your pregnancy. This can either be done deliberately by your health care provider due to a pregnancy complication that you or your baby have developed, or it could be spontaneous.
What Causes Preterm Labor?
There are many different factors that can influence your chances of going into preterm labor. Some that can be controlled by you include:
- Inadequate weight gain
- Inadequate nutrition
Eliminating the ones that apply to you will give your baby the best chances of being carried to term (between 38 and 42 weeks). Other risk factors for preterm labor include:
- Gum infection
- Heavy physical labor
- Hormonal imbalance
- Incompetent cervix or premature cervical effacement and dilation
- Uterine irritability
- Placenta previa
- Chronic maternal illness such as high blood pressure, heart, liver, kidney disease, or diabetes
- Extreme emotional illness
- Under age seventeen
- Over age thirty-five
- Structural abnormalities of the uterus or large fibroids
- Multiple gestations
- Fetal abnormality
- History of premature deliveries
How do You Know if You are Experiencing a Preterm Labor?
Preterm labor is a very serious complication of pregnancy. Unfortunately, many women do not understand the signs of preterm labor. Early detection can help prevent premature birth and possibly enable you to carry your pregnancy to term or to give your baby a better chance of survival. If you experience any of the below signs or symptoms, be sure to contact your health care provider immediately:
- An increase of vaginal discharge especially a sudden gush of clear watery fluid from your vagina
- Spotting or bright red blood from your vagina
- Menstrual like cramping or more than 5 contractions in an hour
- Increase in pressure in the pelvic area
- Low back pain or pressure, or a change in the nature of lower backache
- Swelling or puffiness of the face or hands
- Painful urination, signifying urinary tract, bladder or kidney infection
- Acute or continuous vomiting
- Intense pelvic pressure
How Can You Prevent Preterm Labor?
One of the first things that your practitioner will tell you to do if you are having contractions is staying very well hydrated. What happens with dehydration is that the blood volume decreases, therefore increasing the concentration of oxytocin (hormone that causes uterine contractions) to rise. Hydrating yourself will increase the blood volume. Others things that you can do would be:
This being said, not all preterm births can be avoided, since not all are due to preventable risk factors.
How is Preterm Labor Treated?
The best key is always prevention and early detection. Make sure to ask your practitioner to discuss the signs and symptoms of preterm labor to you and your partner at your next visit. Prompt medical treatment is aimed at halting or postponing premature labor. Some of the treatments involved with preterm labor include:
- Hydration (Oral or IV)
- Bed rest (Home or Hospital), usually left side lying, limitations on sexual intercourse
- Medications. These are used either to stop labor, to prevent infection or to help your baby's lung develop more quickly in preparation for the birth. Drugs that relax the uterus (tocolytic agents) may be administered to stop contractions.
- Evaluation of your baby (Biophysical profile, non-stress or stress tests, amniotic fluid volume index (AFI), ultrasound, etc.)
- If the mother and/or child are in imminent danger from illness or other problems, no attempt is made to prevent labor and child is delivered.
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