Signs of Preterm Labor during Pregnancy

Any complication during pregnancy can be extremely alarming for a mom-to-be and can leave a pregnant woman worrying for her little one. Fortunately, most pregnancies result in a full term, healthy baby, and medical advances have made certain complications less threatening.

Preterm labor is one such condition where knowing the warning signs and getting immediate medical attention can significantly help your baby’s chance of survival and overall good health.

What is preterm labor?

Preterm labor is the onslaught of labor, through dilation, shortening and thinning of your cervix, occurring between 20-37 weeks gestation. About 12% of pregnancies result in preterm birth, with 2% of those deliveries occurring before 32 weeks, also known as extreme prematurity. The earlier a baby is delivered, the greater the likelihood for significant health problems, including neurological complications, breathing difficulties, digestive problems, possible developmental delays, and even death.

However, the onslaught of preterm labor doesn’t necessarily mean that a baby will be born prematurely; about half of all women who experience some degree of preterm labor go on to have full term deliveries. Understanding preterm labor symptoms and risk factors are an important step to preventing an early delivery.

Common symptoms and warning signs

The most common preterm labor symptoms include:

– five or more contractions in an hour

– lower back pain, may be a constant or sporadic ache

– bright red vaginal bleeding or watery, increased discharge

– intense pelvic or rectal pressure

– abdominal, menstrual-like cramps

– increased bowel movements or diarrhea

– decreased fetal movement

– an intuitive feeling that something is wrong

What to do if preterm labor is suspected

If a pregnant woman is experiencing any of the common signs of preterm labor, she should inform her doctor immediately. Staying hydrated by drinking water or juice and lying on one’s left side can help slow down and sometimes diminish preterm labor symptoms. If symptoms continue to worsen or persist after an hour, a pregnant woman should be seen by her doctor or visit the emergency room for further evaluation. Once the cervix and baby are assessed for a clearer diagnosis, medications can be administered to either stop labor, prevent infection, or help develop the baby’s lungs more quickly if delivery is unavoidable.

Ways to reduce the risk of preterm labor

Some risks for preterm labor are uncontrollable, such as being pregnant with multiples, being over 35 years old, having certain uterine abnormalities, and having already experienced previous preterm labors. However, there are a few risk factors that can be averted by a pregnant woman’s lifestyle. Avoiding illicit drug use, alcohol use, and cigarette smoking will lower a mother’s risk for preterm labor as well as provide a healthier fetal environment for the developing baby. Waiting at least 18 months between pregnancies can also reduce the risk, as well as achieving proper weight gain and adequate hydration throughout one’s pregnancy. Preterm labor isn’t always predictable, nor does possessing a risk factor mean that a woman will experience a preterm birth; all pregnant women should be prepared and know the warning signs for preterm labor.

Regular contractions, vaginal bleeding or discharge, lower back ache, and a feeling of pelvic pressure are all warning signs of preterm labor. If a pregnant woman exhibits any of these signs, she has due cause to seek medical attention. Preterm labor can be reversible with medication, and, when preterm delivery is inevitable, a baby can be given his or her best chances for survival if a mom receives prompt medical intervention.