Causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention of premature labor


A full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks. Labor that begins before the 37th week of pregnancy is termed preterm labor. Preterm labor can happen from the 20th week of gestation to the 36th week. When it begins, it comes with intense and frequent contractions.

Preterm labor happens in about 12% of all pregnancies and is caused by various factors.

Risk factors for premature labor

Women who are at risk of having premature labor are:

  • Women who after the 20th week of pregnancy experience continuous and unexplained vaginal bleeding.

  • Women who have a fever of more than 101 degrees F when sick during pregnancy.

  • Women with infects such as kidney, bladder, urinary tract, vaginal and sexually transmitted infections.

  • Women who have a chronic illness such as high blood pressure, diabetes and kidney diseases.

  • Women who have had abortions

  • Women who have thrombophilia (clotting disorder).

  • Women who do not have a healthy pregnancy weight

  • Women who got pregnant through IVF.

  • Women who do not give adequate spacing between pregnancy

Aside from the medical factors, there are other environmental and lifestyle factors that also expose an expectant mother to the risk of premature labor. They are; drinking alcohol, smoking, drug abuse, low income, stress, lack of care, etc. Domestic violence and sexual abuse can also cause women to go into labor early.

Signs and symptoms of preterm labor

It is important to know the warning signs and symptoms of premature labor so that when it happens, you can immediately inform your doctor so that he or she can prevent you from having a premature birth.

Here are the sign and symptoms of premature birth

  • Frequent uterine contractions, about six in an hour.

  • Watery discharge from the vagina could be an indication of broken amniotic fluid

  • Pelvic pressure

  • Cramps just like the ones you get during menstruation

  • Increase in vaginal discharge

  • Change in color of vaginal discharge

  • A constant backache below the waistline

  • Abdominal cramps

  • Abdominal cramps with diarrhea

How to check for contractions during pregnancy

When the muscles of your uterus contract, you are bound to feel a hardening of your abdomen. To check for contractions, you have to feel if your abdomen is hard or soft. Every part of your abdomen becomes hard when your uterus is contracting.

It is important to note that not all contractions mean premature labor. The other contractions known as Braxton Hicks contractions happen during pregnancy but not frequently. You will experience on and off tightening of your uterus, and it is not as painful as labor contractions.

However, if you experience regular contractions in an hour before the 37th week of pregnancy, then it is likely premature labor. To feel if you are having labor contractions, place your fingertips on your abdomen to feel if your uterus is tight.

What to do if you are experiencing premature labor

  • The first thing you should do is to call your doctor immediately and tell him your fears. If your doctor doesn't come an hour later and the symptoms of preterm labor persist, get someone to take you to the closest hospital.

  • After calling your doctor, use the bathroom to empty your bladder, so you don't hold anything back that will worsen the contraction.

  • Keep yourself hydrated to reduce contractions if your pregnancy is still early. Dehydration is one of the causes of contractions, so there might be a possibility that you are dehydrated.

  • Avoid lying flat on your back because it will restrict the flow of blood which may worsen contractions.

  • Monitor the severity of the contractions. If they are not coming frequently, then you can feel a bit relaxed but wait for your doctor.

Treatment for premature labor

You can still delay labor with the use of some medications to prevent preterm birth. Some of these medications will reduce the number of contractions you are experiencing or they will make the baby develop after in preparation for premature birth. Here are some of the medications;

Oral medications

Your doctor will prescribe oral medicines that can help in reducing the contractions and return you to your normal self. Magnesium sulfate medication is given intravenously to pregnant women to discontinue contractions. The first dose of magnesium sulfate is usually large for effectiveness; then the subsequent doses are small to regulate the contractions. One side effect of this medication is nausea, although it is temporary.

Corticosteroid

If premature labor is caused by pregnancy complications such as pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, placental abruption or placenta previa and you have no choice but to deliver prematurely, the doctor will give you corticosteroid to speed up the growth of fetal lungs and brain.

Prevention of preterm labor

You can prevent preterm labor by following these steps

Avoid UTI infection

Prevent urinary tract infection at all cost as they increase the risk of preterm contractions. Always urinate when you feel the urge. Don't go about holding your urine because it's frequent. Doing that will increase the risking UTI infection. Also, after a bowel movement, wash off with unscented soap and warm water or use the toilet paper to wipe from front to back not in reverse.

Avoid squatting and lifting heavy objects.

Do not sit or stand for too long and when you sit, alternate between keeping your legs apart and elevating them. You can change your position every hour if you are going to seat for a while.

Always hydrate

It is important to prevent dehydration while pregnant as it could result in so many complications, and you can avoid it by drinking water and other electrolyte fluids.

Eat healthily

Avoid foods that are known to cause contractions. Be careful not to eat contaminated food as they can cause bacterial infections which will also increase your risk of preterm labor. Before eating any food or snacks, inquire if it is safe for pregnant women as not all foods you ate before pregnancy are safe for you and your unborn baby, hence the need to be careful.

Conclusion

Stress is also one of the causes of preterm labor. Reduce stress in your life by identifying different stresses that are weighing you down and address them. Keep a positive outlook during pregnancy even if you just came back from the hospital where you spent the whole day because of severe morning sickness. Involve yourself in stress alleviating activities such as singing or watching a hilarious movie. Most importantly, surround yourself with people who truly care for you.

Claims

1. “A full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks. Labor that begins before the 37th week of pregnancy is termed preterm labor. Preterm labor can happen from the 20th week of gestation to the 36th week.”( The American Pregnancy Association).

2. “Preterm labor which happens in about 12% of pregnancy and is caused by various factors.

Women who after the 20th week of pregnancy experience continuous and unexplained vaginal bleeding.”(The New England Journal of Medicine).

3. “Women who have a fever of more than 101 degrees F when sick during pregnancy.

Frequent uterine contractions. Sometimes, about six in an hour.”(The New England Journal of Medicine).

4. “However, if you experience regular contractions in an hour before the 37th week of pregnancy, then it is likely premature labor.”( The American Pregnancy Association)

Recommendations

( The American Pregnancy Association)

“... However, by knowing the symptoms and avoiding particular risk factors, a woman can reduce her chance of going into labor prematurely.”

References

  1. http://americanpregnancy.org/labor-and-birth/premature-labor/

  2. https://www.babycenter.com/0_preterm-labor-and-birth_1055.bc

  3. https://www.babble.com/pregnancy/preterm-labor-advice/

  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/preterm-labor/symptoms-causes/syc-20376842

  5. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/07/health/premature-babies-22-weeks-viability-study.html


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