Preterm Labor: Causes, Signs, and Prevention

Every pregnancy is fraught with difficulties and danger – even if you’re in the second trimester and you feel relatively better, there is the danger of a preterm labor and delivery then. What are the signs and symptoms of a preterm labor, the risks and the prevention tips you should note?

What is a preterm labor and how is it different from a miscarriage?

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According to the present ACOG guidelines, birth can be further specified as follows:

  • Miscarriage: Birth before Week 20 1
  • Early term: Between Weeks 37 and 38
  • Full term: Between Weeks 39 and 40
  • Late term: In Week 41
  • Postterm: Between Week 42 and beyond 2

In short, a preterm labor is a labor that takes place some time in-between Week 20 and Week 36 (before Week 37).

Fetuses who haven’t yet reached Week 37 of pregnancy are at risk of various problems if they are born early. They will be kept under observation in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) after the birth and receive treatment if necessary.

Causes of a preterm labor

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Causes of a preterm labor are as follows:

  • An incompetent cervix, uterine fibroids, and uterine anomalies
  • Pregnancy-Induced Hypertension
  • Placenta previa
  • Bacterial Vaginosis (BV), cervicitis, chorioamnionitis
  • Diabetes, kidney failure and other complications
  • Polyhydramnios or oligohydramnios
  • Having many children (multiparity)
  • Advanced maternal age
  • Smoking
  • Fatigue or stress
  • A past preterm labor and delivery

Signs of preterm labor

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Some symptoms and signs that you might be going into labor are contractions, abdominal pain, bleeding and waters breaking. Check-ups at the OB-GYN’s can discover signs that a preterm labor might take place, so don’t play truant and go for your visits diligently!

Contractions occur frequently in the last trimester of pregnancy, but when this is accompanied with abdominal pains and the intervals between contractions are regular, you’re going into labor. If this happens before Week 37, it’s a preterm labor and you should go to the hospital right away.

Tips to prevent a preterm labor

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There isn’t a foolproof way to prevent yourself from going into preterm labor, but you might want to change your lifestyle habits and lower the risks you’re at.

  • Note the amount of salt you take in and have a balanced diet
  • Exercise but don’t strain the body
  • Keep your body warm
  • Refrain from carrying heavy things
  • Try not to stand for too long
  • Take a break after every hour when you drive

The risks of a preterm labor and birth

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If babies are born before week 37, they are usually low birth weight infants and as they don’t have fully-developed lungs at birth, they usually have breathing difficulties like transient tachypnea of the newborn, apnea of prematurity (AOP) and chronic lung disease (bronchopulmonary dysplasia, BPD) in infants.

The infant is also susceptible to other health complications like the retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), necrotizing enterocolitis, intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH) of the newborn, and if the problems become worse, they can lead to heart, brain and vision disabilities. It is thought that this causes attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as well.

Baby might come earlier than planned, so plan early

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A preterm labor and birth can lead to a host of complications that might endanger the life of the baby. There is no way to completely prevent yourself from going into preterm labor, but you know you can lower the risks simply by having a healthy lifestyle and being diligent and going for your check ups. There is a chance that your baby might come early, so plan early and plan ahead so that you’re not caught off guard even in emergencies.