Preterm labor occurs when your body prepares to give birth too early in your pregnancy.
Labor is considered premature if it starts before your 37th week of pregnancy. Most babies who are born early eventually catch up to their full-term peers however, premature infants have a higher risk of long-term health problems, including autism, intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, lung problems, vision impairment and hearing loss.
Risk Factors for Preterm Labor
You may be at a higher risk of premature labor if you receive poor prenatal care or if you have certain medical conditions, including:
- Being very overweight or underweight before pregnancy
- Substance abuse issues-smoking, using cocaine or crack)
- High blood pressure
- Blood clotting disorders
- Pregnancy with a baby who has birth defects
- Pregnancy due to in vitro fertilization
- Pregnancy with multiples, such as twins or triplets
- Family or individual history of premature labor
- Getting pregnant too soon after having a baby
Symptoms of Preterm Labor
Knowing the warning signs of preterm labor can greatly increase your chances of preventing early delivery. If you experience preterm labor, it is important that you act quickly and contact your physician. Symptoms of preterm labor include:
- Fluid leaking from your vagina
- Increased pressure in your pelvis or vagina
- Increased vaginal discharge
- Vaginal bleeding in any amount
Your physician will monitor your baby’s heart rate and check to see if your cervix is opening. He or she may also do a special fetal fibronectin test, which helps to predict your risk of delivering your baby early. If your physician thinks you are going into preterm labor, he or she may recommend that you go to the hospital for further treatment, including:
- IV fluids
- Medication to decrease the risk your baby will have breathing difficulties
- Medication to stop labor by relaxing your uterus
Need more information?
Talk to your doctor if you have questions about pregnancy complications.