All women get anxious for their babies to be born. But healthcare providers want your babies to stay in your nice, warm uterus until term — which for most women is 39 weeks of pregnancy. Any labor that begins before 37 weeks is considered premature or preterm labor, and it’s a serious complication of pregnancy. Premature births can lead to a lot of issues for babies — things like respiratory distress syndrome, infections, pneumonia, anemia and more.
Early detection can help prevent premature birth, and so knowing the signs and symptoms is very important. Please always call your doctor if you suspect premature labor for any reason.
Here are the common signs of premature labor:
- Lower abdominal cramping, which may feel like gas pain
- Menstrual-like cramps or contractions every 10 minutes or more
- Bright red blood from your vagina or change in your vaginal discharge
- Pain during urination
- Sudden gush of clear, watery fluid from your vagina
- Low, dull backache
- Intense pelvic pressure
If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor right away. Do not wait. (And if you’re calling because of fluid loss, don’t be worried that your doctor is going to tell you that you peed in your pants. Happens all the time! And we need to check it out every time.)
Is it preterm labor?
Your doctor will check whether your cervix is dilating and thinning out. Some women get Braxton Hicks contractions (also called false labor), which usually don’t change the cervix. Doctors can tell what your cervix is doing by feeling it through a pelvic exam, or by using an ultrasound to measure how long it is.
Some simple measures can help prevent premature contractions. Staying hydrated is the easiest. When you get dehydrated, your blood volume decreases, which gives you a higher concentration of oxytocin in your blood. (Oxytocin is the hormone that causes uterine contractions.)
If you do experience preterm contractions, your doctor might recommend
- Hydration by IV fluids in the hospital
- Bedrest at home or in the hospital, depending on your situation
- Medications to stop labor
- Evaluating your baby with monitoring, ultrasound
Am I likely to have preterm labor?
A test called fetal fibronectin can help predict preterm labor. This test measures the levels of the protein fFN in secretions from a pregnant women’s vagina and cervix. For pregnant women with symptoms of preterm labor, it can help determine risk of premature delivery.
The test is done in the office between 24 and 34 weeks of pregnancy. Your doctor collects a sample with a cotton swab. If fFn is detected and you have symptoms of labor, you’re a likely candidate for premature labor and delivery. Your doctor will help you manage your pregnancy, and will likely suggest more rest and a lot of water to decrease the potential for contractions. Your doctor may want to be more aggressive in some of the prevention strategies. Some women are admitted to the hospital. At St.Vincent, we have a high-risk unit for women who experience an issue like this.
If you have had premature labor with a previous pregnancy, you’re more likely to have it again. If that’s the case, talk to your doctor about progesterone treatment, which can help prevent preterm births. It involves injections of progesterone between 16 and 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Make sure that you talk to your doctor if you have had a history of premature labor in a previous pregnancy.
We want all pregnancies to be healthy pregnancies and all babies to be born when they’re ready. The best way to make that happen is to get good prenatal care and to pay attention to your body.
If you have questions about premature labor — or any other health concern — you can call 317-338-4-HER to talk to a registered nurse or use this form to talk to me directly.