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Premature Labor: Signs, Causes, Risks and Prevention

Premature Labor: Signs, Causes, Risks and Prevention

A typical pregnancy lasts up to 39 to 40 weeks. Premature labor is defined as going into labor earlier than 37 weeks.

While in the womb, your baby grows until they’re ready for birth. If preterm labor is detected, this growth process will stop midway and the baby might face issues right after they are born. These babies are known as premature babies or preemies. Premature labor happens when the baby is born after 20 weeks and before 37 weeks. Regular contractions can also lead to the cervix to open and make way for the baby.

This condition can be handled by doctors depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy. Modern scientific methods have made it possible for doctors to delay preterm labor as well – though this is completely dependent on where you are, how developed the hospital facility is to handle premature labour, and what your condition is like.

Signs & Symptoms of Premature Labor

It is important to understand the difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and premature labor. Braxton Hicks happen when the uterine muscles contract and relax. These can usually be stopped with movement or changing your position.

Following are the signs of preterm labor that you should watch out for and immediately contact your doctor if suffering from any of these:

  1. Contractions every 10 minutes. If these do not stop after moving or changing your position, then you might be in premature labour.
  2. Constant lower backache. This could be because the baby may be pushing themselves down.
  3. Vaginal discharge can be either bloody, mucus-like, or watery in texture.
  4. Pressure on your lower abdomen along with period-like cramps.
  5. Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. If you are unable to eat anything or have lost your appetite, contact your doctor right away.
  6. Increased pressure on your vagina and the entire pelvic floor.

Some of these symptoms are common during pregnancy, though it is better to check with your doctor about these if you experience it in the days leading up to your pregnancy.

Causes and Risks of Premature Labor

Even though it is still unclear as to what causes premature labor, there are various risk factors that increase its chances.

Following are the triggers that might initiate the baby to come sooner than expected:

  1. If you are older or younger than the recommended pregnancy age that is below 17 years old and above 35 years old.
  2. If you didn’t stop drug or alcohol consumption despite being pregnant.
  3. If you didn’t space out two pregnancies. The advised span is a minimum of 18 months.
  4. If you have pregnancy-related or chronic conditions like heart issues, diabetes, hypertension, or a blood clotting problem.
  5. If you have a history of premature labor in your previous pregnancy/pregnancies.
  6. If you did not take proper care during pregnancy like eating healthy food, exercising, taking supplements, and regular doctor visits.
  7. If you are overweight or underweight.
  8. If you are pregnant with twins or multiple babies.
  9. If you got pregnant with the help of IVF.
  10. If you’ve had a recent traumatic experience like the death of a loved one. This kind of stress can trigger labour contractions.
  11. If you have a physically exhausting job that also makes you mentally stressed.

It is, therefore, necessary to let your doctor know if you have any of the above-mentioned backgrounds. This will help you work through your pregnancy and possibly rule out preterm labor.

Check for contractions

Place your finger on your lower abdomen. If you feel it tightening as a rock and softening as a pillow, then time it. If the difference of time duration between two contractions is 10 minutes, you might be in labor. Try and get up and move around. Change your position and see if the contractions stop. If they don’t, then you’re in premature labor.

How to Prevent Premature Labour?

  1. Be conscious: Now that you are carrying a baby, be extra careful about how you move. You need to stick to a nutritious diet and remain active with exercise. If you take alcohol or drugs, stop immediately.
  2. Space out pregnancies: As mentioned earlier, the recommended gap between pregnancies is a minimum of 18 months. Plan out your next pregnancy accordingly to avoid preterm labor.
  3. Regular doctor visits: Your doctor will check how your pregnancy is progressing.
  4. Keep your weight in check: As written in the risk factors above, underweight and overweight women have higher chances of premature labor. Often women tend to gain weight, giving in to ‘pregnancy cravings’ or eating less because of nausea that comes with pregnancy. Ask your doctor about your weight and the baby’s weight to determine a healthy weight range.
  5. Stay hydrated: Staying hydrated is extremely important during pregnancy as less water/fluid intake can lead to premature contractions.
  6. Check for gum infections: Pregnancy hormones expose women to periodontal infections. This means that the bacteria present in these infections can get into the mother’s blood and possibly be a trigger for preterm labor. Therefore, a visit to the doctor won’t harm.
  7. Don’t hold in your pee: This can cause infections and inflame your bladder making it more sensitive to premature labor. So, always pee when you have to!
  8. Regulate underlying conditions: Diabetes, hypertension, and heart diseases make you more vulnerable to preterm labor. Therefore, manage these conditions while you’re pregnant.

Key Takeaway

As a mother, your body should be well prepared to carry a baby and you should be able to provide sufficient nourishment. Keep in mind all the above points to avoid any complications leading to premature labor. Make sure you eat well, exercise as prescribed by the doctor, and also keep away from alcohol and smoking for better and the safer development of the baby in your womb.

Learn more about Giving Birth and Complications here.


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Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Written by Nikita Bhalla Updated Jun 29, 2021
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel