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Preterm labor – Causes and Symptoms

Overview

Preterm labor occurs when uterine contractions result in the opening of the cervix after week 20 and before week 37 of pregnancy resulting in early labor.

You may give birth to a premature baby during early labor. Premature labor does not always result in preterm birth.

About Preterm Labor

The normal period of pregnancy is usually 40 weeks. Preterm labor is intense contractions of the uterine muscles felt well before the 37th week. You may not give birth immediately but such a situation requires urgent medical intervention. Your doctor will try their best to stop the baby from being born early. Premature birth is likely to affect the baby both physically and emotionally. Babies born prematurely are often kept in a special neonatal unit where intensive care is provided 24×7 by a team of experienced doctors.

What are the symptoms of preterm labor?

The symptoms of preterm labor may include the following:

  • A sensation of alternate contraction and relaxation of the abdomen
  • A continuous dull ache in your lower back
  • Low pressure in your pelvis or lower part of the abdomen
  • Cramps similar to menstrual cramps
  • Spotting of blood or mild bleeding through the vagina 
  • A sudden rush of fluid from the vagina
  • The type of vaginal discharge changes from thin, watery, to thick, mucous-filled one; it may be stained with blood

When do you need to see a doctor?

It is important to contact your doctor the moment you experience any of the aforementioned symptoms. It may be a false alarm but still it needs to be checked. 

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How do you prevent preterm labor?

  • Regular antenatal checks are necessary to monitor the pregnancy.
  • Follow a healthy and balanced diet 
  • Make lifestyle changes and give up smoking, consumption of alcohol or drugs
  • Plan your family by spacing the births; you may consult your doctor in order to get the right information
  • If using assisted reproductive technology (ART), consider how many embryos should be implanted. Multiple pregnancies carry a greater risk of preterm labor.
  • Keep conditions such as high blood pressure , obesity and diabetes under control as they pose a risk of preterm labor.

What are the treatment options for preterm labor?

It may be  possible to halt preterm labor temporarily. The doctor may prescribe medications to prevent premature delivery or lower the risks of early labor and even slow down the contractions.

  • Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids may help promote the lung maturity of your baby. Your doctor may recommend corticosteroids if you are between 23 and 34 weeks,.
  • Magnesium sulfate: This may reduce the risk of cerebral palsy in the premature baby
  • Tocolytics: This is known to slow down the contractions. It will help the caregivers to transport you to the nearest hospital so that special care can be provided for both you and the baby
  • The doctor may recommend closing the cervix surgically by suturing the opening tightly (cervical cerclage). This may stop premature delivery if you are less than 24 weeks pregnant.
  • You may be advised to undergo weekly hormonal shots or undergo cervical cerclage as a preventive measure. This will be recommended if you have a short cervix.

Conclusion

Preterm labor is an issue that is experienced by women all over the world. Proper prenatal care is advised for pregnant women with known risk factors. You would be advised to discuss every little problem with your doctor throughout the pregnancy.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can the preterm labor stop as suddenly as it begins?

Yes! There is strong evidence to support this. At least 3% to 10% of pregnant women have experienced preterm labor without giving birth. However, the doctors may try to slow down the process and succeed in reversing it by treatment.

Should I expect preterm labor if I had a similar experience in the past?

A history of preterm labor will increase your risk of going through the same experience again. Your doctor will try to prevent such an occurrence by regular monitoring of the pregnancy to avoid the risks for preterm labour .

What should I do if I give birth to a premature baby following early labor?

The doctor will not be able to stop the birth. However, the premature baby will be kept under observation with round-the-clock care in the NICU.

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