Preterm labor occurs when contractions cause your cervix to dilate and thin out before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Delivery of a baby prior to full maturity is the most common cause of infant death or illness. Babies who survive being born too early may have problems gaining weight or growing tall. They may have problems with vision, hearing, breathing, and coordination. There may also be behavioral or learning problems in these children as they get older.
Your chances of having preterm labor are higher if you smoke, use illegal drugs, don’t eat properly, or develop certain types of infections. If you have already had a preterm delivery, if you are carrying more than one baby, or if you have had early rupture of membranes, you’re at higher risk for preterm labor and delivery. Steps you can take to decrease your chances of a preterm delivery include:
- Having regular prenatal care
- Not using illegal drugs
- Not smoking
- Eating healthy foods and not skipping meals
- Being alert to signs of preterm labor, and
- Following advice from your healthcare team
The best way to prevent preterm delivery is to detect preterm labor early. Early signs of preterm labor include:
- Persistent low, dull backache or low back or pelvic pressure
- Four or more uterine contractions per hour. These may feel like menstrual cramps, a sensation of the “baby rolling up in a ball,” more uterine activity than you’re used to, abdominal cramping with or without diarrhea, or increased pelvic pressure with or without thigh cramps.
If you experience these symptoms, lie down on your side, place your hand on your lower abdomen and feel for contractions. If after one hour, these symptoms continue, contact your healthcare team immediately.
Also, be sure to contact your healthcare team immediately if you experience:
- A change in vaginal discharge, such as change in color of mucus, or
- Leaking or gushing clear fluid or bright red blood