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Preterm Labor — Symptoms and Signs

calendarSeptember 28, 2016
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What does preterm labor feel like

Pregnancy normally lasts anywhere from 37 weeks to 40 weeks, that time period beginning on the first day of the woman’s last period. Such pregnancies that progress normally, continuing beyond 37 weeks, are called a "term" pregnancy. So, what is preterm labor? It’s any labor beginning before 37 weeks into a pregnancy.

With every pregnancy, in every country, each woman faces the risk of premature labor (also known as preterm labor). But she probably doesn’t think it’ll ever happen to her. If it does happen, she may not know what options she has. Fortunately, 30 to 50 percent of women in premature labor will end up delivering their babies at term rather than having a preterm birth.

Before exploring the signs of preterm labor it may be helpful to go over the normal signs of imminent labor, which are as follows:
  • baby dropping

At some point from a few hours to a few weeks before labor begins, the baby drops lower into her pelvis. Also called "lightening", this means the baby is positioning head-down to prepare for birth. When a baby settles into this lower position, she can breathe easier but will likely need more frequent visits to the restroom.

  • Intense, regular contractions

A woman's uterus contracts during her entire pregnancy, preparing itself for labor. Near the end, these contractions start to move the baby lower into the birth canal. Labor involves strong, rhythmic, consistent contractions that, for more than an hour or two, become closer than five minutes apart. Normally starting in a woman's back, they then move around to the front. The abdomen seizes up tight, then relaxes.

  • Water breaking

The fetus develops surrounded by amniotic fluid, and when this protective sac of fluid ruptures, some women have a gush of liquid. Others have a slow trickle. A pregnant woman's water may break any number of days before any labor actually starts, or it may break during labor, or it may not break at all until broken by an obstetrician during delivery. Once the water breaks, the baby loses its cushion of protective fluid and is at risk of infection. Thus, doctors will want to deliver the baby within a day or two of this.

  • Lower back pain and cramping

During labor, a woman is likely to feel pressure or cramping in her pelvic and rectal areas. A dull ache in her lower back is also likely.

  • Bloody “show”

Days before labor or as it begins, a woman’s vaginal discharge may increase and may be pink, brown or slightly bloody. This "bloody show” comes from the releasing of the mucous plug that blocks the cervix (which opens to the uterus) during pregnancy. The mucous plug loosens as the cervix dilates, or opens up, during the first stage of labor.

  • Diarrhea or nausea

Some women have diarrhea or vomit at the beginning of labor. It's also not known which comes first: labor or these symptoms. nesting instinct

  • A sudden burst of energy to clean your domicile spotless.

The signs of preterm labor are the same signs, but early signs. Most premature babies are born between 34 and 36 weeks. Whether 34 weeks pregnant signs of labor or 36 weeks pregnant signs of labor, where such preterm labor signs (or, if you prefer, preterm labor symptoms) do occur, for about 30 percent of women, the signs stop on their own, and of those women who actually go into preterm labor, only about 10 percent of them follow through by giving birth within the seven days following the signs, find out more about the first stage of labor.

What does preterm labor feel like? A review of comments posted online by women who had experienced it indicates that it feels large like labor itself.

What Causes Preterm Labor?

Can stress induce labor

It’s not easy to identify the cause of most cases of preterm labor. Generally, there are four causes, which include:

  • Uterine bleeding: Placenta previa (the placenta covering the cervix to some partial or total extent) and placental abruption (which is what they call it when the placenta actually separates from the uterus prior to birth) can make the fetal membranes rupture too soon, triggering preterm labor.
  • Uterine stretching: Having had twins, triplets, or more, or having polyhydramnios (too much amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus) stretches the uterus, which can cause uterine contractions and preterm labor.
  • Bacteria and/or inflammation: Bacteria and/or inflammation due to a uterine infection can stimulate substances that trigger uterine contractions.
  • Stress — physical and/or psychological: “Can stress induce labor?” Serious stress releases hormones that trigger uterine contractions and preterm labor.

A number of risks are applicable to preterm labor. While it remains hard to predict who’ll go into preterm labor, certain conditions and factors are well known that do increase the risk. Oddly, though, most women with preterm births have none of these risk factors at all! The most-highly correlated risk factor for premature delivery is a prior premature delivery. Still, most women who’ve had such a premature delivery will eventually have a term pregnancy in their future. According to one study, only 22 percent of women who’d had a preterm birth had another preterm birth with their subsequent pregnancy.

Other risk factors are:

  • Being pregnant with triplets or twins, or even more.
  • A history of cervical surgery (such as conization or cone biopsy) prompted by abnormal pap smears, if a large portion of the cervix is excised.
  • Uterine abnormalities.
  • Bleeding of the uterus, particularly during the second or third trimester.
  • Use of certain illicit drugs, like cocaine.
  • Smoking cigarettes. (It is not known if the modern trend toward vaping is a risk factor.)
  • Certain infections.
  • Low pre-pregnancy weight, and low weight gain during the pregnancy.
  • Too much amniotic fluid.
  • Anemia early on in the pregnancy, if it is moderate or severe.
  • Less than 12 to 18 months between pregnancies.
  • Surgery involving the abdomen during the pregnancy

Furthermore, black women have double the incidence of preterm labor and delivery compared to white women. The risk of premature birth is also higher in women under 21 years of age. However, older maternal age alone (over 40) is not associated with any increased risk of premature birth. Older women, though, are more likely to have other conditions (for example, hypertension, and diabetes) that can complicate things and require premature birth.

How to Prevent Premature Birth?

How to avoid preterm labor? One of the most simple things a pregnant woman can do to avoid or prevent premature birth is to stop habits harmful to them, for example, smoking cigarettes, or abusing illegal substances. More medically-speaking, women who have a history of a previous premature delivery (less than 37 weeks of pregnancy) because of spontaneous labor or preterm membrane rupture may ask their doctor about a progesterone supplement, whether as injection or as vaginal gel, to help prevent the recurrence of their past premature delivery.

Supplementation via progesterone is started between 16 weeks and 26 weeks of pregnancy and maintained until 36 weeks have passed. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence showing this supplement effective in women who have no history of premature delivery. Furthermore, it has not even been seen effective in women who’ve had multiple gestations (e.g., triplets or twins).

How to Stop Preterm Labor?

It is possible to give a treatment in an attempt to slow or stop the progress of premature labor. The main goal of this treatment is to delay the birth for enough time that steroids, which aid in the development of the baby's lungs, can be administered. Such treatments to delay birth are usually recommended if the woman is less than 34 weeks along in her pregnancy, as babies born before 34 weeks face an elevated risk of complications that come with preterm delivery.

But, if the mother’s or the baby's health are at less risk in than out of labor, labor may be allowed to proceed. It may also be allowed to go ahead if the mother is more than 34 weeks pregnant, or if tests indicate that the infant's lungs have fully developed. A woman in premature labor will be admitted to a hospital for monitoring while medications to stop labor are given to her. A fetal monitor should be used to measure the mother’s uterine contractions and infant's heart rate.

As for treatments to fully stop the labor, if both mother and infant are otherwise healthy, medicines are oft used to relax the uterine muscle and thereby to stop contractions. Drugs used to stop or slow labor are categorized as "tocolytic" agents. These agents include nifedipine, terbutaline, indomethacin, and magnesium sulfate. Some are administered intravenously or by injection; others can be swallowed. Tocolytic treatment is usually backed up by a steroid (glucocorticoid) injection. Tocolytic medicine means to delay delivery for hours, ideally for 48 of them. While tocolytics are used, the mother must be monitored for side effects.

If labor does stop, the woman is normally kept in the hospital for a time to monitor for any uterine contractions. Depending upon any number of factors, she may be discharged home or requested to stay. As you can see, these are complex issues, but there is no shortage of those. For example, if a pregnant woman still hasn’t given birth to term, she’s likely going to wonder how to induce an early labor, meaning “early” as in: prior to it happening naturally. There’s trouble enough to go around, and I hope this article fulfilled the specific need(s) you read it for.

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