A preterm birth is when a mother goes into labor after 20 weeks, but before she is 37 weeks pregnant, regardless of how much the baby weighs.
There are many things that can put you at risk for going into preterm labor. You should always make you sure your healthcare providers have your complete and accurate medical history so that they can best evaluate your risk. Risk factors for preterm labor include:
According to the WHO (World Health Organization) almost 10% of all births are preterm (13 million worldwide).
Some groups of women have a higher risk of going into preterm labor than others. African Americans, for example, have twice the risk of preterm labor than any other ethnic group. Teenagers also tend to be at higher risk.
Preterm labor is considered a medical emergency. If you have any of these symptoms, you should contact your healthcare provider right away:
If, for any reason, you think you may be in preterm labor, call your provider right away. They may send you to the hospital to make sure you’re getting the care you need. Preterm labor evaluations can take anywhere from 1 to 24 hours, so be prepared if you have younger children at home or pets that may need supervision and care. If you are in preterm labor, you should not labor at home or hesitate – this is a medical emergency.
A healthcare provider will need to assess you to decide whether labor can or should be stopped. It will depend on how far along you are in your pregnancy and what has caused you to go into labor. If you are admitted to the hospital in preterm labor, you will fall under the supervision of a maternal-fetal-medicine team of specialists and they will work with you to determine the best course of action:
If there is any possibility the baby will be born before 37 weeks, you will likely be given a steroid medication called Betamethasone that can improve your baby’s lung development. This gives the baby a better chance to be able to breathe on their own once they are born.
Yes, preterm labor can be very dangerous for your baby. The biggest concern is whether your baby’s organs have had enough time to develop.
If your baby is born preterm, you can expect they will stay in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) for supervision after birth for as little as 24 hours, or until the child reaches the 37 weeks of development.
No, preterm labor is not dangerous for the mother. The risks to the mom are the same as having your baby at the normal time.