Preterm Labor or Premature Labor

August 16, 2010



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Preterm labor, or premature labor, is a condition where labor begins early, between 20 and 37 weeks of gestation.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Preterm Labor or Premature Labor?

The signs and symptoms of preterm labor, or premature labor, are:

  • menstrual-like cramps
  • low back pain
  • painless uterine contractions, which may feel like tightening, gas pain, movement of the fetus, or indigestion
  • pain in the abdomen or pelvis
  • vaginal bleeding or red tinged discharge
  • pelvic pressure
  • increase in urination
  • diarrhea

If you have symptoms of preterm labor, call your health care professional. Many women have some or all of the symptoms, but don’t go into preterm labor.

If you do have premature labor, it does not necessarily mean that a preterm birth will occur. More than 50 percent of women who have preterm labor will carry their baby through the full term.

What are the Risk Factors for Preterm Labor or Premature Labor?

The following increase the risks of preterm labor, or premature labor:

  • smoking
  • alcohol use
  • drug use
  • inadequate nutrition
  • inadequate weight gain
  • gum infection
  • infection
  • incompetent cervix
  • hormonal imbalances
  • placenta previa
  • maternal illness
  • fetal abnormalities
  • age under 18 or over 35 years
  • multiple pregnancy (carrying 2 or more fetuses)

What is the Treatment for Preterm Labor or Premature Labor?

Your healthcare provider will first evaluate your condition and do a pelvic exam to determine whether or not your cervix has begun to dilate and soften. You should also have a test of the cervical or vaginal fluids for fetal fibronectin (FFN). FFN is a type of protein which may help evaluate the risk of preterm delivery. False positives sometimes occur.

Preterm or premature labor is generally treated with bed rest. You may have bed rest at home or in a hospital, depending on your condition.

If it is not close to your due date, every effort will be made to postpone premature delivery. The longer the baby stays inside the uterus, the better its chances of being healthy.

You may additionally be prescribed medication to try to stop contractions and labor.

Premature rupture of membranes may change your treatment.

You and your baby will be monitored regularly. If there is a risk to the mother’s or baby’s health by continuing the pregnancy, it may not be possible to postpone delivery.

It may not always be possible to avoid preterm delivery, but more than half of women with premature labor will go on to carry their babies full term.




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