Pre-term Labor – What You Need to Know

Amy Hendel Health Guide
  • Scenario one: You are blissfully enjoying your pregnancy, and you are moving towards your 35th week of pregnancy, when suddenly without warning you are in labor.

    Scenario two:  You were told that this pregnancy is "high risk" because you have already had a couple of miscarriages and then difficulty getting pregnant, along with spotting during your first trimester.  You wake up in the beginning of your 34th week of pregnancy and realize you are in labor.

    Scenario three:  You are in your 36th week of pregnancy and singing along to the music in your car when you are suddenly hit in the rear.  That fender bender puts you into early labor.

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    Pre-term labor is labor that occurs before your 37th week of pregnancy.  Most pregnancies typically last 38-40 weeks after the first day of your last menstrual cycle and the developing baby needs that time to be fully ready to arrive as a healthy, active newborn.  About 12% or 1 in 8 babies in the US arrive as pre-term babies.  These babies are at higher risk of needing hospitalization, additional care after leaving the hospital, long-term health risks and they have a higher risk of dying than babies born on time.


    Who is at risk for pre-term labor?

    • Any woman who has had a pre-term birth previously
    • Women pregnant with multiples
    • Any woman with a cervical/uterine abnormality
    • Any woman who already has or who develops a serious illness during pregnancy - unresolved or undiagnosed urinary tract infection, diabetes or gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity or seriously low weight prior to pregnancy, certain bleeding disorders.


    Lifestyle or environmental risks that can increase preterm labor include:

    • Little or no prenatal care
    • Smoking during pregnancy
    • Exposure to DES (from your mother)
    • Alcohol use
    • Stress
    • Long working hours with long periods of standing
    • Domestic violence


    Can preterm labor be stopped?

    In some cases a combination of total bed rest and medications can stop preterm labor.  Sometimes that delay is only long enough to get the woman to the hospital so that a drug that speeds up the baby's lung development can be administered.  In a small number of cases, administering progesterone during the pregnancy can prevent preterm labor in a woman who has a past history of this complication.


    Possible signs of preterm labor may include:

    1. Contractions every 10 minutes
    2. Leaking fluid or bleeding from your vagina
    3. A feeling of distinct pelvic pressure that does not resolve
    4. Low back pain
    5. Cramping that feels like your menstrual cramps
    6. Cramps accompanied by diarrhea


    Typically your doctor (based on the severity of your symptoms) may tell you to come into the office (for an evaluation); tell you to go directly to the hospital; have you lie down on your left side for one hour to see if symptoms resolve; drink some clear fluids or juice to see if dehydration is causing symptoms.  The best way to avoid preterm labor is to pace yourself, get plenty of sleep and rest, eat a healthy diet and engage in a moderate exercise program (after getting your doctor's approval), watch your weight gain, see your obstetrician regularly and if you have a risk for this condition then plan carefully so you can avoid many of the risks.

Published On: April 02, 2009