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Preterm Labour

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?
Preterm birth is when a baby is born between 20 and 37 weeks. 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 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.
  • carrying twins, triplets or more.
  • infections of the bladder and some sexually transmitted infections.
  • health conditions such as high blood pressure, bleeding or diabetes.
  • a suture in your cervix or a very short cervix.
  • water breaks before 37 weeks.
  • smoking tobacco or using drugs such as cocaine.
  • underweight before you became pregnant and are not gaining enough weight during your pregnancy.
  • a lot of stress or violence in your life.
  • several miscarriages before.
  • working shift work or long hours; standing for long periods; 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:

  • period-like cramps or contractions that come and go (more than four in an hour) or are constant.
  • cramps or contractions that become more uncomfortable.
  • change or increase in the vaginal discharge; water breaks as a trickle or a gush, mucous or blood.
  • 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 or page your midwife. You need to be assessed by a health care provider to confirm that you are in preterm labour. Assessments include an ultrasound and examination of your cervix. Treatment can include medications to help your baby’s lungs develop, antibiotics for a bladder infection, or drugs to try and slow labour down. 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.

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