Preterm LaborTeresa Shaw |28, July 2008
No one is certain why preterm labor occurs; however, there are some steps that can be taken to help prevent preterm labor from occurring, especially for those women who are at higher risk for the condition.
What is Preterm Labor?
Preterm labor is defined as contractions that begin to open the cervix before 37 weeks of gestation. Most pregnancies last 38-42 weeks; your due date is calculated as 40 weeks after the first day of your last menstrual period. Preterm labor is also referred to as premature labor. If your baby is delivered before 37 weeks of gestation, it's considered a preterm birth and your baby premature.
Preterm labor is dangerous, in that if it can't be stopped, the baby will be born too early. Sometimes, it can be stopped by way of a combination of medication and bed rest. In addition, birth can be delayed long enough for the mother to be taken to a hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), and a drug can be administered to help speed up the baby's lung development.
Survival is possible for babies born as early as 24 to 27 weeks, but these preemies may face health problems throughout their lifetime. Even preemies who are born later can face serious complications—including low birth weight, breathing and digestive difficulties, underdeveloped organs, learning disabilities and developmental problems, the Mayo Clinic reports.
What Are the Signs of Preterm Labor?
Signs of preterm labor include the following.
- Contractions every 10 minutes or more often
- Changes in vaginal discharge, such as bleeding or watery discharge
- A dull lower backache
- Pelvic pressure, as if the baby is pushing down
- Cramps that feel like menstrual cramps
- Abdominal cramps
If you are experiencing any of the following, contact your health care provider or go to the hospital immediately.
Who is at Risk for Preterm Labor?
Women who have previously experienced a preterm labor or preterm birth are most at risk. Also, women with certain uterine or cervical abnormalities, and women carrying multiples are at high risk.
What Can Be Done to Prevent Preterm Labor?
While preterm labor cannot be prevented in all circumstances, there are simple measures that can be taken to prevent it. Staying well hydrated—especially during the summer months—can go a long way toward preventing preterm labor. In fact, it may be one of the first things your health care provider recommends when you tell him or her that you are experiencing contractions.
Women at risk of preterm labor should take extra care to eat a healthy and varied diet, get plenty of rest, schedule and keep regular doctor appointments and regularly discuss any questions or concerns you have, manage stress, and pay attention to your dental health—these are all steps that can ensure a healthy, full-term pregnancy.Teresa Shaw is a professional editor and freelance writer with a degree in English and journalism. She writes about motherhood, travel, and cooking, among other topics, for a variety of print and online markets. She enjoys spending time with her husband, daughter, two cats, and dog.
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