What is Premature Labor?
Premature or pre-term labor is labor that begins more than three weeks before you are expected to deliver your baby (but after the 20th week of pregnancy). Contractions (tightening of the muscles in the uterus) cause the cervix (lower end of the uterus) to open earlier than normal.
What can be done for me if I have premature labor?
Pre-term labor may result in the birth of a premature baby. However, labor often can be stopped to allow the baby more time to grow and develop in the uterus. Treatments to stop premature labor include bed rest, fluids given intravenously (in your vein), and medications to relax the uterus.
If born prematurely after the seventh month, a baby would likely survive, but may need to stay for a short time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) of the hospital. If the baby is born earlier than the seventh month, he or she may be able to survive with specialized care in the NICU.
What Are the Signs of Premature Labor?
It is important for you to learn the signs of premature labor so that you can recognize them and get help to stop it and prevent your baby from being born too early. Premature labor is usually not painful, but there are several warning signs, including:
- Contractions or tightening of the muscles in the uterus every ten minutes or more.
- Regular tightening or low, dull pain in your back (it may come and go or be constant but is not relieved by changing positions or other comfort measures).
- Lower abdominal cramping that may feel like gas pain (with or without diarrhea).
- Increased pressure in the pelvis or vagina.
- Menstrual-like cramps.
- Increased vaginal discharge.
- Leaking of fluid from the vagina.
- Vaginal bleeding.
- Flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
- Decreased fetal movements (the baby does not kick as often as it usually does).
What Should I Do If I Have Signs of Premature Labor?
Call our office right away if you have:
- Leaking of fluid from the vagina
- Vaginal bleeding
- Sudden increase of vaginal discharge
What happens if I have to go to the hospital?
After talking to us about your signs of premature labor, we may tell you to go to the hospital. Once you arrive:
- You will be asked to wear a hospital gown.
- Your pulse, blood pressure and temperature will be checked.
- A monitor will be placed on your abdomen to check the baby's heart rate and evaluate uterine contractions.
- Your cervix will be checked to see if it is opening.
If you are in premature labor, you may receive medication to stop labor so your baby has more time to develop in the uterus. You may also be given a different medication to help speed up the development of your baby's lungs. If the labor has progressed and cannot be stopped, you may need to deliver your baby. If you are not in premature labor, you will be able to go home.
How can I tell the difference between pre-term labor and false labor?
Before "true" labor begins, you may have "false" labor pains, also known as Braxton - Hicks contractions. These irregular uterine contractions are perfectly normal and may start to occur as early as the second trimester, although more commonly in the third trimester of pregnancy. They are your body's way of getting ready for the "real thing."
Braxton-Hicks contractions are usually described as a tightening of the uterus that comes and goes. These contractions may start strong and get weaker with time. They usually come at very irregular intervals. They may stop if you walk or change positions. They usually are felt mostly on the front of the uterus.
True labor pains are quite different. These contractions may start off weak, but get stronger and closer together with time. They also don't stop regardless of whether you are lying down, sitting, or walking. While labor pains often feel different from woman to woman, and from pregnancy to pregnancy, true labor pains are usually felt lower, and often start in the back and move toward the front.