You’re starting to feel a tightening in your uterus; does this mean you are in labor? But you’re just 34 weeks in your pregnancy! Premature or preterm labor can be a cause of panic, especially for women who are pregnant for the first time. While labor during your full term can be an exciting phase of your journey, labor before such time can make you feel otherwise.
Don’t worry, the threat of preterm labor need not be a cause of concern most of the time. A lot of preterm babies between weeks 34 and 36 are delivered healthy and safe. If you’re not quite convinced, educate yourself with these top 10 important things to know about preterm labor.
- It occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Preterm labor happens before you reach week 37 of your pregnancy. When this happens, the body is starting to get ready for birth too early. While preterm labor can significantly lead to an early birth, this can be delayed through a number of innovative methods. The longer your baby is inside your womb, the more time this gives him or her to continue to develop fully.
- Most preterm births are spontaneous.
Only about a quarter of premature births are planned; the rest are spontaneous. Your health provider may suggest inducing labor earlier than 37 weeks if a complication arises, such as severe or worsening preeclampsia or swelling, or if the baby has stopped growing.
- Spotting is a sign of preterm labor.
If you notice any vaginal spotting or bleeding before you reach 37 weeks, call your doctor right away as this could be a sign of preterm labor. This also applies if there are any changes in discharges, such as a mucus-like, blood-tinged, or watery discharge.
- Contractions become regular and frequent.
Unlike Braxton-Hicks’ contractions, which starts early in pregnancy, actual labor contractions occur regularly, with 10-minute intervals. Even if they don’t hurt, expectant mothers who have not yet reached 37 weeks are advised to notify their doctors immediately once this happens. In the hospital, their contractions will be monitored through a pressure sensing device like the toco transducer. From there, your medical team will decide whether or not you will be induced to give birth early.
- Timing your contractions can help spot early labor.
Check your contractions at home to make it easier for you to detect preterm labor. If you feel a tightening and softening of your uterus when you place your fingertips on your belly, that’s a contraction. Record when it starts, ends, and starts again. If you can, try to stop the contractions by relaxing or moving about.
- You may be admitted to the hospital.
Once your doctor diagnoses you with premature labor, you may be admitted to the hospital to delay birth as much as possible. You may be given medication that relaxes your uterus and stops labor, as well as antibiotics, IV fluids, and a shot that speeds up the development of the fetus’ lungs.
- You can be asked to go home.
If you’re not in premature labor, your doctor may ask you to go home and advise you to bed rest to lower the risk of preterm birth, though there has been no evidence found supporting this claim.
- Later preterm infants may not have health problems.
Babies born between 34 and 37 weeks, or so called “late preterm infants”, do significantly better than those who are born earlier, who are at great risk for long-term health complications, such as a chronic lung disease, cerebral palsy, vision and hearing impairments, and other developmental consequences.
- Regular prenatal care can prevent premature labor.
There’s a reason why you are advised to regularly visit the doctor throughout your pregnancy. Constant monitoring of your health and your baby’s can significantly help detect any symptoms of preterm labor and delay it as much as possible.
- You may be prescribed with preventive medications.
If you are at great risk of preterm labor, your doctor may take additional methods to reduce that risk, including preventive medications like hydroxy progesterone caproate shots and progesterone that is to be inserted in the vagina. On top of this, existing chronic conditions will be managed and controlled as much as possible.
If you experience preterm labor, the best thing to do is to keep calm and seek immediate professional care right away. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your child’s health.