Preterm labor is defined as a pregnant woman’s body preparing itself for delivery too early in a pregnancy. Normal pregnancies last about 40 weeks. If a woman is having preterm labor, she experiences regular contractions that prepare the cervix for labor between the 20th and 37th weeks of pregnancy. Obviously, this can lead to preterm birth, where numerous health concerns are possible for the baby, as it is delivered before being fully developed.
At Women’s Health Medical Group, we have experience delaying preterm labor as long as possible. Here’s some more information.
What is preterm labor?
As mentioned above, preterm labor is labor that starts before the 37th week of pregnancy. These aren’t occasional feelings of contractions, but regular contractions of the uterus resulting in changes in the cervix. These changes include effacement, or thinning, of the cervix and dilation of the cervix.
Why are preterm births a concern?
Preterm labor can lead to premature birth. Premature births have increased the risk for birth defects in the child, along with cognitive and medical problems down the road. Some of these health problems, such as cerebral palsy, can last a lifetime. Other problems, such as learning disabilities may not show up until later in childhood or even in adulthood.
What are the risk factors for preterm birth?
Several factors can increase a woman’s odds of premature births:
- Having a previous preterm birth
- Having a short cervix
- History of certain types of surgery on the uterus or cervix
- Short interval between pregnancies
- Certain complications of pregnancy, such as multiple pregnancy and vaginal bleeding
- Lifestyle factors such as low pre-pregnancy birth weight, smoking during pregnancy, and substance abuse during pregnancy
What are the signs and symptoms that I’m in preterm labor?
If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, you need to call us at Women’s Health Medical Group:
- Change in type of vaginal discharge (watery, mucus, or bloody)
- Increase in amount of discharge
- Pelvic or lower abdominal pressure
- Constant low, dull backache
- Mild abdominal cramps may include diarrhea
- Regular or frequent contractions or uterine tightening, often painless
- Ruptured membranes (your water breaks with a gush or trickle of fluid)
Diagnosing preterm labor
We can tell if a patient is in preterm labor based on changes in the cervix. This requires a pelvic exam. This may need to be repeated several times over a period of a few hours.
In about one-third of women with preterm labor, it stops on its own. Around 10 percent lead to premature birth. Otherwise, the team at Women’s Health Medical Group may use certain medications to delay delivery, if that seems the best course for the baby and the mother.
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms noted above, please call us at Women’s Health Medical Group immediately, (817) 346-5336.