Some pregnant women go into labour and deliver preterm babies early without warning. Let's have a look at what Pre-term Labour and Pre-term Birth mean.
What Is Preterm Labour?
Preterm labour is when the process of labour (getting painful regular contractions along with the opening of the mouth of uterus i.e., cervix) occurs between 20 weeks to 37 weeks of pregnancy. (The total duration of a human pregnancy is 40 weeks).
Did you know that 5-10% pregnancies are potentially at risk of preterm labour?
Risk of preterm delivery for the baby can pose a number of health concerns for your baby, such as
- Low birth weight
- Breathing difficulties
- Underdeveloped organs
- Vision problems
In many cases it may lead to a long stay in NICU, long term sequelae which may include mental, behavioural and learning disabilities, hearing or vision defects. Chances of any of these complications are higher, shorter the length of pregnancy.
It is completely unexpected in most of the cases but sometimes there are telltale signs prior to the actual process. Some things to keep in mind for an expecting mother at all times and to seek medical care are
- If period like cramps are being felt repeatedly
- If you feel a change in the normal vaginal discharge like too much discharge, watery discharge or foul smell in the discharge
- Low back pain or pressure in the lower abdomen
- Spotting or light vaginal bleeding
- Frequent abdominal cramps
Some pregnancies are at higher risk of preterm labour than others. Few of these factors are
- Previous preterm labour or premature birth
- Twins or triplets
- Shortened cervix on two or more previous ultrasound scans
- Problems with the uterus or placenta
- Smoking cigarettes or using illicit drugs
- Previous infections
- Medical problems in pregnancy such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
- Stressful events in life like the death of a near or dear one
- Too much amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios)
- Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy
- Presence of a foetal birth defect
- An interval of less than 1 year or more than 5 years between pregnancies
- Age of mother, both young and older
Certain precautions can come in handy to prevent preterm labour and delivery and most important among them is the awareness regarding the possibility of preterm labour.
Other measures to take in pregnancy are
- Do your visits with your doctor regularly. Prenatal visits can help your health care provider monitor your health and your baby's health. Mention any signs or symptoms that concern you. If you have a history of preterm labour or develop signs or symptoms of preterm labour, you might need to see your health care provider more often during pregnancy.
- Good nutrition during pregnancy is known to be associated with a favourable outcome. Studies suggest that a diet high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) is associated with a lower risk of premature birth. PUFAs are found in nuts, seeds, fish and seed oils. Unhealthy eating habits like junk food, street food made with unhygienic practices can lead to infections which in turn can trigger preterm labour.
- Avoid smoking, alcohol and use of drugs
- Be smart in pregnancy spacing. Some research suggests a link between pregnancies spaced less than six months apart, or more than 59 months apart and an increased risk of premature birth.
- Be cautious when using assisted reproductive technology (ART), which in common language means test-tube baby. If you're planning to use ART to get pregnant, consider how many embryos will be implanted. Multiple pregnancies carry a higher risk of preterm labour.
- If you suffer from any chronic conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes or obesity, managing it well and keeping the required parameters in control helps in reducing the risk of preterm labour.
- Sometimes having these chronic conditions especially if uncontrolled may lead to iatrogenic prematurity for baby which means your doctor may have to deliver the baby prematurely to reduce life-threatening scenarios for either mother or baby
If your doctor feels that you're at increased risk of preterm labour, he or she might recommend taking additional steps to reduce your risk. Please contact your doctor if you think that you may be having preterm contractions or other symptoms of preterm labour. Preterm labour is detected timely, medications can be administered to improve lung maturity for the baby which can help in potentially reducing NICU(Neonatal ICU) stay for the baby.