Pregnancy is normally a time of happiness and anticipation, but it can also be a time of uncertainty. Some women have worries about going into labor early. Preterm labor occurs in about 12% of all pregnancies. However, by knowing the symptoms and avoiding particular risk factors, a woman can reduce her chance of going into labor prematurely.
A normal pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks. If you start having regular contractions that make your cervix to begin to open prior to reaching 37 weeks of pregnancy, you’re in preterm labor. This happens because uterine contractions cause the cervix to open earlier than normal. Consequently, the baby is born premature and can be at risk for health problems. Fortunately, research, technology and medicine have helped improve the health of premature babies. Going into preterm labor does not mean you’ll have a premature baby. Up to half of the women who have preterm labor eventually deliver at 37 weeks or later.
Signs and Symptoms
- Discharge: If you see any clear fluid discharge, or any abnormal or malodorous discharge, you should inform your care provider immediately.
- STDs or Beta Strep: If you have ever been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease or with group B beta strep, your care provider may wish to do typical cultures at your initial visit and then do it again later in the pregnancy.
- Changed pattern of movement: If your baby changes his or her pattern of movement, you also have to alert your doctor or midwife.
- Multiple gestation: If you have been diagnosed with twins or any higher order gestation, or if ultrasound has detected a “greater than average” volume of amniotic fluid, you need to be alert for symptoms of preterm labor.
- Uterine abnormality or placental problem: If ultrasound has ever detected a uterine abnormality or fibroid — or if you have suffered a premature separation of the placenta or have a low lying placenta — you are at higher risk for preterm labor and need to be alert for signs and symptoms.
Symptoms can consist of, but are not restricted to:
- A contraction every 10 minutes or more frequently within one hour (five or more uterine contractions in an hour)
- Watery fluid leaking from your vagina (this could indicate that your bag of water is broken)
- Menstrual-like cramps in the lower abdomen that can come and go or be constant
- Low, dull backache felt below the waistline that may come and go or be constant
- Pelvic pressure that feels like your baby is pushing down
- Abdominal cramps that may occur with or without diarrhea
- Increase or change in vaginal discharge
It is important to keep well-hydrated to both prevent uterine irritability and to prevent urinary tract infections that can lead to preterm labor. Diagnosed early, premature labor can be stopped and the pregnancy can be carried to term.