Pre-Term Labor

by Judith E. Beckett, R.N.

Preterm labor is labor that occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy. It can cause your baby’s premature birth. Babies born too soon sometimes spend weeks or months in the intensive care nursery and some suffer life-long disabilities. Some do not survive.

Knowing about the warning signs of preterm labor is important because preterm labor can often be stopped. Bed rest and medication can delay your baby’s birth until the time is right. You can also be given medication to speed up the development of your baby’s lungs and prevent some of the complications of premature birth.

Even if you do everything right, you can still have preterm labor, but some women are more likely to experience preterm labor than others. Preterm labor is more likely to occur if you have had a previous preterm birth, if you are carrying more than one baby, or if you have certain abnormalities of your uterus or cervix. Women who are very underweight or overweight, smoke, drink alcohol or use illicit drugs are also at greater risk.

You may be experiencing preterm labor if :

  • You feel contractions (your abdomen tightens like a fist) every 10 minutes or more frequently
  • You notice fluid or bleeding* from your vagina
  • You feel pressure in your pelvis, groin or thighs, as if the baby is pushing down
  • You have a low, dull backache that doesn’t get better with position change
  • You have cramps that feel like you are getting your period
  • You have abdominal cramps with or without diarrhea

Preemie BabyIf you experience any of these symptoms, stop doing what you are doing and call your healthcare provider right away. If she is not immediately available and does not return your call promptly, call the facility where you are planning to deliver. Waiting can cause your baby to be born too soon.

Once on the phone with you, your healthcare provider will ask you to drink two or three glasses of water or juice because not drinking enough fluids can sometimes cause premature contractions. She will then want you to rest on your left side for an hour, explaining that some believe more oxygen is delivered to your baby in this position. If your symptoms do not go away within an hour, she will then tell you to go to the hospital.

If, at any time during that hour, you believe that something is not right, do not wait. Have someone take you to the hospital. Always trust your instincts and do not hesitate to ask questions.

At the hospital, a nurse will monitor your contractions and your baby’s heart rate by attaching an electronic fetal monitor (EFM) to your abdomen. A vaginal examination will probably be done by your provider to determine if your cervix has started to open and if you are in preterm labor. If you are not, you will probably be allowed to go home to rest for the remainder of the day. Try to avoid doing whatever you were doing earlier.

If symptoms of premature labor do occur, the best thing that you can do for your baby is to remain calm. Remember that only six to ten percent of babies are born prematurely. Even if you are in preterm labor, your chances of bringing a healthy baby home from the hospital are still excellent.

*vaginal bleeding here refers to spotting only. Bleeding – blood flowing from your vagina in any amount greater than a couple of quarter-sized spots – is an emergency. You must go to a hospital immediately.

Information published on The Rainbow Babies website is not a substitute for proper medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or care. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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