Premature labor is the medical term for labor that begins before the due date. Let us discuss premature birth. Are you worried about your early labor? It can feel frightening, but if you go into labor early, it is important to remember that your body and baby are designed to get through this. Premature labor is labor before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
If you are pregnant, it is natural to worry about premature labor. It is the leading cause of early birth. Premature labor is when your body starts getting ready for birth too early in your pregnancy.
What Raises Your Risk?
- Lots of things can increase your risk of premature labor and see your doctor if any signs or symptoms of preterm labor start.
- Smoking can increase your risk of premature labor. Other risk factors include being overweight or underweight before pregnancy and having certain medical conditions.
- The risk of having a baby early is higher if you are in your teens or over 40. It is also higher if you do not get prenatal care and if you drink, smoke, or use street drugs during pregnancy. You can lower the risk of premature birth by taking care of yourself and your health.
- Although getting pregnant with a baby from in vitro fertilization, Pregnancy with twins or other multiples, a family or personal history of premature labor and getting pregnant too soon after having a baby may help prevent premature birth.
- Having health conditions, such as high blood pressure, preeclampsia, diabetes, blood clotting disorders, or infections can increase your risk of premature labor. If you have been diagnosed with any of these conditions during your pregnancy, be sure to take all recommended precautions to protect yourself and your baby.
Acting fast when you sense possible premature labor can make a big difference. Learn about prematurity symptoms so you can spot them early and know when to call your doctor or midwife.
- One early sign of preterm labor is dull back pain or pelvic pressure that does not go away. You may feel it as abdominal cramps, especially if you previously had them during your period.
- When you are having contractions every 10 minutes or more often, which get faster and more severe, it is known as premature labor.
- These cramps may be felt in the front or back of your pelvis. If you have not already, now is a good time to start tracking your contractions.
- If you are leaking fluid from your vagina before 37 weeks of pregnancy, you may have a condition called preterm premature rupture of membranes (you are leaking amniotic fluid). Consult your doctor If your belly hurts and feels hard.
- If you cannot swallow liquids for more than 8 hours because you are throwing up or having diarrhea, call your doctor. If you notice any of these symptoms, be sure to call your doctor right away—even if they seem mild. In most cases, it is not a cause for concern.
- Increased vaginal discharge or bleeding is a sign of premature labor, especially if it comes with lower back pain. Bleeding could mean you have developed a “bloody show,” or mucus plug.
Although these may be all normal symptoms of pregnancy, they may also indicate a potential problem. Be sure to have your midwife or doctor check out any warning signs.
How to Check for Contractions
- Place your fingertips on your abdomen. If you feel your uterus tightening and softening, that is a contraction. Contractions may get stronger as labor progresses.
- To check if your contractions are premature labor, time the length and frequency of your contractions. Write down the starting time of each contraction and the time at the start of your next contraction.
- Stop contractions. Lie down on your left side and drink plenty of liquids, you may need to go to the hospital.
- Your doctor or midwife might tell you to come in to see if you are in labor. If you are, they can help you stay healthy.
You know your body better than anyone else. If you feel that it is time for labor, but your doctor says to wait for nature to take its course, you may be able to encourage labor to start on its own. You can try walking around, taking a warm bath, or using nipple stimulation to get things started.
If You Need to Go to the Hospital
If your doctor thinks you are going into premature labor, he will have you go to the hospital. Once you get there, a doctor or nurse will:
- If you need to go to the hospital, get ready. Your prenatal care team will want to know your medical history and the medicines you have been taking during your pregnancy. They will also check your pulse, blood pressure, and temperature.
- To check your risk of premature labor, the doctor will put an external monitor on your belly to check your baby’s heart rate and your contractions. They may also swab your cervix for fetal fibronectin, a protein that holds the fetus in place. This helps predict the risk of delivering early.
- If you need to go to the hospital because you think you are in premature labor, your caregiver may test your urine or cervix for infection. They will also check your cervix to see if it is opening.
When you are diagnosed with premature labor, you may need treatment. This may include IV fluids, medicine to relax your uterus and stop labor, medicine to speed up the development of the baby’s lungs, antibiotics, and being admitted to the hospital.
When your amniotic fluid sac breaks and labor continues, you may need to deliver your baby. Your doctor or midwife will talk with you about the signs of preterm labor, how often you need prenatal care, and how to get early treatment if it happens.
How Can you Prevent Premature Birth?
Pay attention to your body and talk to your doctor or midwife if you think you are having preterm labor. The earlier it is diagnosed and treatment starts, the better chance you have of having a healthy baby.
You cannot always prevent preterm labor and preterm birth, but these steps can help you to avoid them.
- Stress can make it harder to manage your prenatal care and increases the chance of preterm labor. Setting aside quiet time every day can help with stress, as can asking for help from friends and family when you need it.
- Gum disease can hurt your pregnancy, so make sure you brush your teeth every day and consider scheduling an appointment at the dentist if it has been a while.
- Avoid risky behaviors and substances, such as smoking and alcohol.
Yes! You can take several steps to help prevent premature birth. The first step is to identify your risk factors and make sure your practitioner knows if you have any of them. Having a short cervix is one of your main risk factors for preterm delivery. Fortunately, there are ways to prolong pregnancy in a woman who has this condition.
Research has shown that treatment with a hormone called progesterone can prevent preterm birth in certain women. If you have had a premature birth before, ask your doctor about vaginal progesterone or progesterone shots to help lower your risk of having another preterm baby.
What Happens if your Baby is Born Early?
What do I need to know about having a baby early? If you have a preemie, you may be able to hold the baby against your skin and breastfeed. Or, you might need to help your baby learn how to eat by putting food into her mouth with a dropper or feeding tube. Most preemies go home within 4 weeks of birth. But some seriously premature babies need more time in the NICU so they can grow bigger and stronger. Having a baby early can be scary, but most preemies go on to do fine.
Premature babies might have problems with their lungs, heart, brain, eyes, or other organs. If your baby is born too early, he or she might need to spend time in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
If your baby gets sick or has a medical problem, contact your doctor’s office as soon as possible. Be sure to find out whether you should call before going in or whether your doctor will want to see your baby right away.
- You may find that you spend more nursing your baby than doing anything else. This is okay! You will want to spend lots of time learning how to read their cues and respond to them with specialized care.
- They must get plenty of nutrition while they are learning to eat, so offer the breast or bottle often. If you have questions, you can always call your doctor or nurse for help.
- Your premature baby may be sleepier than full-term infants and even sleep through feedings. Wake your baby when it is time to eat. Put the baby on their back to sleep. Call your doctor if you notice that your baby is having a hard time breathing.
- Preterm babies do not have as much body fat to keep their temperature normal. They need to be kept warm and cozy. In winter, dress them in layers.
- It is critical to make sure your baby is checked for jaundice before you leave the hospital, as this can lead to brain damage if not treated early. Jaundice (yellowing skin or eyes) and difficulty eating can both sign, and mean your baby’s liver is having trouble clearing its blood of bilirubin. Talk to your doctor if you notice any symptoms after leaving the hospital.
- Premature babies are more likely to get infections because their immune systems are not yet fully developed. Watch for symptoms of illness like high fever or breathing problems, and contact your doctor if you think your child may need treatment for an infection.
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