Preterm labor—labor that begins before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy—accounts for about 8 percent to 10 percent of births in the United States. Knowing the signs of preterm labor and taking immediate action if symptoms occur could help you carry your baby to term.
In most normal pregnancies, labor begins between weeks 38 and 42. However, in some cases, labor begins earlier in the pregnancy than it should, putting the baby at risk for complications.
Be on the Lookout
A woman who is experiencing symptoms of labor prior to week 37 should immediately contact her healthcare provider because he or she may be able to stop the progression of labor through the use of oral or intravenous medication.
Contractions—tightening of the uterus that presents in a pattern (becoming consistently longer in duration, stronger and closer together)-are the most notable symptoms of premature labor. However, Braxton Hicks contractions—commonly felt throughout the third trimester—do not have a pattern. Although they may be uncomfortable, Braxton Hicks contractions are not typically “painful.”
If you begin experiencing contractions, lie down on your left side and rest for about an hour. Also, begin drinking fluids, as contractions can be brought on by dehydration.
It is extremely important to monitor the frequency of the contractions you are experiencing, as this is the main difference between irregular Braxton Hicks contractions and labor contractions. If the contractions are occurring every five minutes for at least 20 minutes or eight times every hour for more than one hour and do not subside after resting, contact your healthcare provider immediately.
Other signs to watch for include:
- A dull, constant ache in your lower back
- Mild abdominal cramping that may be accompanied by diarrhea
- Pelvic or lower abdominal pressure
- Ruptured membranes. (When your water breaks, you may feel a sudden rush of liquid or a slight trickle of fluid. Either way, you should notify your healthcare provider immediately.)
- Vaginal spotting or bleeding
If you have concerns about any of your symptoms-especially if you are having vaginal bleeding or an increase in vaginal discharge—it is best to contact your doctor as soon as the symptoms occur, as it is better to be cautious than to wait too long for treatment.
- With the big day rapidly approaching, now is the time to begin making last-minute preparations. If your car seat is not already installed in the car, make sure to do that now. Also, take the time to fill out registration papers ahead of time and map out the best route to the hospital.
- Don’t forget about your pets! Pets will need to be taken care of while you are in the hospital, and it is best to take precautions in your home that will keep both your pets and new baby safe. Consider buying a mesh net that you can put over the crib to detour curious cats from climbing into the crib to see the baby. Also, make sure to acclimate your dog with your baby’s scent, so it views your baby as part of the family.