Premature labor is defined as labor that begins before 37 weeks gestation. It may occur in 5-10% of all pregnancies and may be caused by a multitude of factors including:
- - Dehydration
- - Infection
- - Trauma
- - Premature membrane rupture
- - Hemorrhage
- - Placenta previa (when the placenta covers a part of or the entire cervix)
- - Placenta abrutio (when the placenta separates from the uterine wall before birth)
- - Injury
The major complications that arise when babies are born preterm are issues with heat control (thermoregulation), problems with the cardiac and respiratory systems. In the case of immaturity of the respiratory system, corticosteroids can be administered in two doses which help stimulate the production of surfactant (lubrication in the lungs) and better prepare the lungs for breathing in air. Keep in mind that many babies are born prior to 37 weeks and do not seem to suffer any initial complications. They are, however, closely monitored for changes, to ensure they remain healthy and strong.
Some signs and symptoms to be mindful of as you approach your due date are:
- - Backache that is described as dull, and is new or changed from previous pain
- - Pressure in the pelvis
- - Cramps that are menstrual-like
- - Change or increase in vaginal discharge
- - Abdominal cramping, with or without accompanying diarrhea
- - Contractions that are regular, persist for over an hour and can be either painful or painless
- - Membranes that are ruptured (breaking of the waters, bloody discharge, release of mucus plug)
If you suspect that you might be in preterm labor, do not hesitate to call your midwife, OB or health care provider to see what they appropriate steps might be. In the meantime, try to stay hydrated to prevent the release of oxytocin, which tends to stimulate contractions. Submerging yourself in a warm bath up to your neck might also help your body absorb more fluid and decrease some of your contractions. You should also lay down and invert your pelvis in an attempt to lift the cervix and relieve any pressure on it. If the membranes rupture, call 911 or your provider immediately!!
During the entire process, try to remain calm and surround yourself with a great support system. Your provider will guide you in the right direction and will be there to encourage and support you throughout your journey.