PRETERM LABOR. WHAT IS IT, WHAT HAPPENS AND WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR.
Labor can be described as ‘preterm’ when it occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy. While an obstetrics team might induce early labor for several medical reasons, this articles looks at spontaneous preterm labor. There are several reasons why it may occur, but in more than half of all cases, there is no clear cause.
Carrying twins can be a risk factor for going into labor early, as can polyhydramnios, a common condition where there is more than the usual amount of amniotic fluid around your baby. Structural abnormalities of the uterus can also cause early labor, as
Preterm labor can be a frightening experience. Not only is it unexpected and leaves you feeling unprepared for the birth, but once early labor has been confirmed, parents will also be worried about how this will affect their baby. The extent to which baby will be at risk depends on just how early they are born. If labor happens past 34 weeks, the prognosis for baby is usually very good, and although a little extra medical attention is required, survival rates are similar to that of full-term babies. One of the biggest causes for concern in premature babies is that their lungs have not fully developed in time for birth. However if labor occurs between 32 and 34 weeks, the lungs are mostly matured. While they will need a short stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), the prognosis is generally very good. Babies born between 28 and 32 weeks will need quite extensive medical intervention to help them through the first weeks of life, but they still have a good prognosis with over 95% chance of survival. Unfortunately, the chance of survival for babies born at or before 23 weeks is incredibly small. Babies born between 23 and 28 weeks have variable survival rates depending on exactly how early baby comes, but all of these new arrivals will need a long stay in the NICU.
For mum, the signs of preterm labor are the same as those of full-term labor. She might experience low back pain, contractions or period-type pains, waters breaking or a ‘show’, but this is all happening much earlier than expected. In some cases, preterm labor can be stopped; when labor happens before 28 weeks, medications may be used to prevent it from progressing, giving baby’s lungs time to mature. After 28 weeks, labor can often be allowed to continue, as survival rates are good with a stay in the NICU. If this is the case, steroids will be given to help baby’s lungs to mature, and special measures will be used during the delivery to allow it to happen quickly to prevent any further complications during birth. Pediatricians will have a lot of input immediately after delivery in order to keep baby warm and well.
So what can you do to minimize your risk of preterm labor? There are some measures which can be taken to help prevent it, and the most important of these is to have regular antenatal check ups. Risks such as an abnormal uterus or polyhydramnios, and infections such as Group B Streptococcus can be detected and managed by your midwife or obstetrician. They can also assess your risk for preterm labor if it is something you have experienced in a previous pregnancy. As an expecting mother, or somebody who is planning for a pregnancy, keeping on top of your nutritional needs is of the utmost importance. It is also advised to avoid having pregnancies too close together, as this can increase the risk of preterm labor. Finally, if you have any symptoms of infection while pregnant, it is important to see your doctor as a soon as possible, so that it can be dealt with early on and avoid the risk it poses for preterm labor.
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