When you read books, blogs and articles about pregnancy and parenting you must have come across the terms called preterm labor and pre term birth several times. Though you may not have discussed this with your doctors or health care providers while pregnant, it’s really important that you are aware of these terms during pregnancy. This article here will give answers to some of the frequently asked questions on pre term labor and birth.
What is pre term labor and birth?
There are few important terms you should know when you are or any of your near one is pregnant. Full term pregnancy, preterm pregnancy or labor, and preterm birth are few important things you should know before going into labor.
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- Pregnancy lasts for about forty weeks from the day you have conceived. If you reach the 40th week for delivery of your baby then your pregnancy is considered as Full term pregnancy.
- Getting severe uterine contractions or labor pain before you reach 37 weeks of pregnancy is called as pre term labor or premature labor.
- Similarly, giving birth to a baby before reaching full term or before the completion of 37 weeks of pregnancy is called pre term birth or premature birth and therefore your baby is considered as premature baby.
- Even though a lot of pregnant women experience pre term labor, only about 50 % of them actually have premature babies or deliver early, whereas the rest usually give birth in the 37th week or after that.
There are basically two types of preterm births, one is planned pre term birth and the other is spontaneous preterm birth. A planned pre term birth is necessary if the baby has a serious medical condition or the mother has some serious health problems or even in the case of ectopic pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancy is a condition where implantation of fertilized egg happens outside the uterus, typically in either of the fallopian tubes or even in overy, abdomen or in cervix.
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In such cases, the medical team either induces false labor before the 37th week or plans for a C section to deliver the baby. Approximately, about 25% of the pre term births is generally planned. On the other hand, spontaneous pre term refers to the natural occurrence of pre term labor due premature opening of cervix without any contractions or premature water breakage, etc.
What causes spontaneous pre term labor?
Maximum time, reasons behind spontaneous preterm birth are unknown. Pre term labor can be caused due to a number of reasons, some of which are as follows: Urinary or genital tract infections: Bacteria in the genital tract produces substances. There are membranes around the amniotic sac.
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The substances which are produced by bacteria can lead to weaken those membranes. This causes to rupture it early which leads to preterm labor. In urinary tract infections, the bacteria is in urinary tract but you cannot find any symptom of it unless you do urine test to check presence of any bacteria.
- Other infections like kidney infections, appendicitis, pneumonia, etc
- Placenta Prevea, placenta accrete, placental abruption or other placental problems
- Large sized uterus, usually due to multiple pregnancies, or excess of amniotic fluid
- Abdominal surgeries during pregnancy like appendicitis, removal or ovarian cysts or removal of Gall bladder etc.
- Having cervical insufficiency or structural abnormalities of the cervix:
Normal cervix size is 25 millimeters. But in some cases cervix can be shoter than normal. As it is too small it thins out or opens without contractions, etc.
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- If you have had your first delivery preterm then there are more chances that your following deliveries are going to be preterm labor.
- If you are pregnant with multiples such as twins, triplets then your risk factor of having preterm delivery increases.
- In the second or third trimester if you are having bleeding from vagina then you will have preterm labor.
- If you are overweight or underweight before pregnancy and if you do not gain appropriate weight during pregnancy then your chances of going into preterm labor are more.
What are the symptoms of preterm labor?
It’s really important to seek medical attention from your doctor or midwife immediately in case you experience any of these below mentioned symptoms during the last term of pregnancy. Some symptoms of preterm labor which are mentioned here can confuse you; such as lower back pain or contractions or pressure on pelvic. As these symptoms can happen any time during pregnancy. But if you feel they are severe than usual and it is always better to take precaution than cure so consult your doctor or midwife immediately before anything goes out of hand.
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- Severe lower back pain, usually dull and rhythmic. If you did not have back pain history and suddenly experiencing this, it should be checked by a doctor.
- Excessive vaginal discharge that is more than the normal levels.
- Vaginal bleeding or spotting ( light or heavy).
- Abnormal vaginal discharge which is too watery, too thick with mucus or blood filled
- Abdominal pain and cramps, more than 4 in an hour, may not be painful but they may be regular
- Excessive pain in the pelvic region, etc.
What are the tests to determine the chances of a pre term delivery?
There are two tests that can be done to predict your chances of having a pre term delivery. They are:
Ultrasound measurement of the length of the cervix
The cervix test where length of cervix is checked is done by doctor usually during your first prenatal visit. This test is recommended for women who have a small or differently sized cervix. The health care provider will recommend this test if there are any concerns and to look for changes and the efficacy of the cervix. For more accurate results your doctor will ask for an ultrasound; which will give your practioner more precise size of your cervix. Depending on the ultrasound result your doctor will recommend required precautions to take.
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Fetal fibronectin screening
Women who experience uterine contractions or any other symptoms similar to labor pain before the completion of the 37 weeks are advised to take this test. This test measures the protein called fetal fibronectin that is produced by the fetal membranes to check for any abnormalities. The amount of fetal fibronectin is checked in this test. If amount is very small then you are at high risk of preterm labor. This test can be done in-between 24 and 34 weeks of your pregnancy. The negative result of this test states that more likely you are going to deliver within next two weeks of your pregnancy period.
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Precautions to avoid Spontaneous Preterm Labor:
- Taking care of yourself is the most important thing you can do to avoid preterm labor. You strictly need to follow some routine during pregnancy and avoid unhealthy habbits. If you have habbit of smoking you need to stop it right away when you come to know that you are pregnant.
- Eating healthy food and avoiding junk food, taking required rest, managing stress, and importantly visiting doctor regularly on scheduled appointments are some habbits which will not lead you to preterm labor.
- Following your practioner’s advice on any condition is good for you and your baby for healthy and safe pregnancy.
- Another advisable thing to do during pregnancy is do not hide anything from your doctor. If you have any medical history you need to tell this to your doctor without any hesitation.
- Take some time out for yourself. This will help you to notice changes happening in your body and with your baby’s movements. If you feel any unsual change then share this with your doctor.
- By following your doctor’s advice your risk factors can be reduced.
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Consequence of preterm labor on your baby:
If your delivery happens very early it can lead to serious health problems in your baby and your baby can born with lower birth weight. The lower birth weight is said to be when baby’s weight less than 5 pounds when she born. There can be major health issues because of premature birth and lower birth weight like brain hemorrhage, problem while breathing, and different organ problems such as nervous system if your baby born as premature child. With the help of enhanced medical technology it is possible to treat preterm babies.
There are lots of pregnant women who experience preterm labor and birth, and generally have healthy babies. But in case the mother or the child has any health issues or face any complications during pregnancy, things could get out of hand. So it’s really important that mothers take good care of themselves as well as their developing baby and discuss all the possibilities before hand with the health care providers to avoid any risks during pregnancy. If you notice any sign of preterm labor early, you will receive treatment accordingly which will help and will benefit you and your baby.