Preterm Labor

What is “preterm labor”?

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.

What are risk factors for preterm labor?

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:

  • Whether you’re having multiples (twins or triplets), or have had multiples before
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol or illegal drug use
  • A history of surgery in your reproductive organs
  • Current or prior STD infection
  • Being underweight or overweight
  • Having had preterm births before, or having been born preterm yourself

How common is preterm birth?

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.

What are signs of preterm labor?

Preterm labor is considered a medical emergency. If you have any of these symptoms, you should contact your healthcare provider right away:

  • If you think your water may have broken
  • If you are experiencing a continuous leak of vaginal fluid
  • If you have any bleeding and haven’t had intercourse or a pelvic exam in the last 24 hours
  • If you start having contractions before you’re due, which feels like your abdomen tightening every 10 minutes or more
  • If you have a constant low dull, backache, an increase in pelvic pressure, or bad cramps in uterus or anywhere in abdomen.

If I think I am in preterm labor, what should I do?

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.

Can preterm labor be stopped? If so, what should I expect.

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 they determine the labor can be stopped, they may put a stitch in your cervix called a “cerclage” to help keep it closed.
  • Alternatively, they may try to stop the contractions with medications. Stopping the preterm labor gives the baby more time to grow and mature.

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.

Is preterm labor dangerous to my baby?

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.

Is preterm labor dangerous to me?

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.

What can I do to prevent preterm labor?

  • If you are smoking, drinking, or using illegal drugs, stop.
  • See your provider for prenatal care as soon as you know you are pregnant.
  • Go to regular visits with your provider.
  • Eat well and exercise regularly.
  • Manage high blood pressure, diabetes, or any chronic conditions you have.
  • Talk to your healthcare providers about any medication you take. They will work closely with your pharmacists to make sure everything is safe for you and your baby.
  • Tell your healthcare providers if you have a history of a preterm birth. They can help you with strategies to reduce your risk of preterm birth.