Premature Babies

According to the American Pregnancy Association, premature labor (after 20 weeks and before the 37th week) happens in about 12% of all pregnancies. Catching it in time can result in the pregnancy continuing long enough for the fetus to properly develop. However this is not always the case and premature labor can also result in the loss of the fetus before it is developed enough to survive outside of the womb. Knowing and being able to recognize the signs of premature labor can greatly increase your chances of a successful pregnancy.

What is Premature Labor?

Normally a pregnancy last for a gestation period of 40 weeks or 9 months (Health care professionals use weeks to keep track of pregnancies). When a woman goes into labor before the 37th week (by the 37th week a fetus is able to survive outside of the womb without health problems or concerns) it is considered premature or too early. Pregnancies that end in loss before the 20th week are considered miscarriages. The causes of premature labor are often more limited than the causes of a miscarriage.
What are the Causes of Premature Labor?
The risk factors for premature labor as stated above are somewhat limited and are often associated with medical conditions of the mother and not necessarily the mother’s lifestyle. These factors include:

Carrying more than one fetus
Premature labor in previous pregnancies
Incompetent cervix or history of cervical changes in earlier pregnancies
DES (Diethylstilbestrol)-This use to be prescribed for pregnant women to stop a miscarriage, but has been linked to a shortening of the cervix. It is no longer prescribed, however if it was taken by the pregnant woman’s mother during her pregnancy than it could have affected her in uteri.
A Cerclage (a stitch put into the cervix) which is actually the treatment for an incompetent cervix.
A previous cone biopsy, this is used to diagnose women with abnormal cervical cell changes.
Elective abortions
Recurring bladder or kidney infections
Smoking and alcohol use
The use of recreational drugs like cocaine
Extreme emotional or physical stress

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Premature Labor?

Below I have listed the signs of premature labor. Even though some may seem a normal part of being pregnant for instance lower back aches can be a common discomfort, if for whatever reason you think something isn’t right, you should always contact your doctor right away. It is of course always better to be safe than sorry.
A contraction every ten minutes for an hour (sometimes it can be hard to realize the difference between a contraction and a Braxton-Hicks contraction which are normal and not harmful). The biggest difference is that a regular contraction is painful and comes at regular intervals.

Unusual or sudden increase in vaginal discharge
Vaginal bleeding
Low, dull backache
Watery fluid leaking from your vagina (could be your water has broken)
Menstrual-like cramps
Pelvic pressure

Remember, if you think you are going into premature labor contact your doctor immediately. The sooner you get medical attention the better chance you have of stopping the labor and continuing the pregnancy. However, you must also realize that every woman’s situation and pregnancy is different. I personally have lost two children to premature labor a son and a daughter, it is because I have an incompetent cervix and when I went into labor my contractions went from non-existent to 1-2 minutes apart in an instant. This is somewhat rare though. Bottom line, no matter what risk factors you may have, even if you do not think you have any (I didn’t know I had an incompetent cervix until the loss of my second child) you should always be aware of the possibility and be able to recognize the symptoms if and when they ever present.