Preterm labor is a fear of many expectant mothers. Preterm labor is defined as labor that occurs after 20 weeks but before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Certain women are at greater risk for premature labor. Below is a list of risk factors for preterm labor and a list of symptoms of preterm labor.
Risks for Preterm Labor
- Women diagnosed with incompetent cervix, uterine abnormalities, or uterine fibroids
- Women with a history of previous preterm labor and/or birth
- second trimester bleeding
- placenta previa
- If baby has excessive amniotic fluid
- Poor prenatal care
- nutrition or low weight gain during pregnancy
- Smoking, alcohol, or drug use
Symptoms of preterm labor
- cramps with or without diarrhea - may be constant or intermittent
- Dull backache - may be constant or intermittent
- Leaking or rupture of membranes (i.e., your water breaks)
- Pelvic pressure - feeling like the baby is pressing down
- Any abdominal cramping
- Change in vaginal discharge (i.e., more watery discharge or a change to pinkish discharge, etc.)
- Contractions every 10 minutes or less with or without pain
If you are at risk for preterm labor, you should be aware of how to monitor for contractions. Contractions are not always painful. Feel your stomach for hardening or tightening. Some women describe this as a balling up sensation. In other words, the baby feels as if it is curling up into a ball. For others contractions may feel more like cramps. During a contraction your belly will feel firm and hard. If you experience contractions every 10 minutes or less or any of the above symptoms of labor contact your health care provider for further instructions.
Prevention of preterm labor
Although not all preterm labor can be prevented, there are some steps you can take to prevent preterm labor. Drink plenty of water - 8 to 10 glasses a day. Dehydration can cause contractions so staying well hydrated can help prevent contractions. Empty your bladder frequently, about every 2 to 3 hours. A full bladder can irritate your uterus and therefore cause contractions. Avoid lifting heavy objects and overexertion. If you have other children have them sit on your lap instead of carrying them. Take frequent rest periods throughout the day, preferably laying on your left side. Laying on your left side provides the best blood flow to your baby. Avoid breast stimulation if you are at risk for preterm labor. Sexual activity may need to be avoided by certain women at risk for preterm labor.
If you have any concerns or feel you may be at risk for preterm labor, please contact your health care provider for specific care and instructions.