What is premature labour?
A normal or full-term pregnancy is 37 to 42 weeks long. Preterm labour is when regular contractions of the uterus cause the cervix to change BEFORE 37 weeks. Sometimes preterm labour stops, and the baby is born at term. Sometimes it doesn’t and the baby is born early.
What does this mean for a baby?
Many premature babies do well, but some have health problems and need to stay in the hospital longer than babies born full term. Thanks to advances in medical care given in specialized Neonatal Intensive Care Units, even very premature babies are more likely to survive today than in the past.
What can causes preterm labour?
Preterm labour can happen to anyone, even if they are healthy and have “done all the right things”.
Factors that may increase the chances of preterm labour are:
- A premature baby before.
- Several miscarriages before.
- Carrying twins, triplets, or more.
- Infections of the bladder and some sexually transmitted infections.
- A suture that has been placed in your cervix or a very short cervix.
- Smoking tobacco or using drugs such as cocaine.
- Health conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
- Underweight before you became pregnant and are not gaining enough weight during your pregnancy.
- A lot of stress or violence in your life.
- Working shift work or long hours, standing for long periods, or working in a very hot environment.
- Doing strenuous work at home or at a job.
- Under 18 or over 35 years of age.
What are the signs?
It’s important to know the signs of preterm labour as sometimes it can be delayed or stopped. Many of the signs of preterm labour can be mistaken for the normal discomforts of the second half of pregnancy. Signs to watch for are ones that feel “new” or “different”, such as:
- Cramps or contractions (tightening in your abdomen) that come and go (more than four in an hour or more than normal for you).
- A trickle or a gush of fluid (water breaks), bleeding, or an increase in discharge from your vagina.
- Low, dull backache that gets more uncomfortable.
- Feeling pressure that the baby is pushing down.
- Sensing that “something is not right”.
What do you do if you think you are in preterm labour?
If you have the signs of preterm labour GO to the Hospital right away. Treatment can include medications to help your baby’s lungs develop and medication to try and slow or stop labour. You may be admitted to the hospital for rest and monitoring or transferred to a specialized Level 3 hospital until your baby is born.
Adapted with permission from the Best Start Resource Centre.