Also called premature labor, preterm labor refers to the uterine contractions that force the cervix to stretch out before norm. In other words, it’s a sign indicating the body’s readiness or ability to deliver a baby early during pregnancy. With the uterus muscles contracting, one can feel the abdomen hardening.   

Preterm labor is generally a precursor to preterm birth. It usually happens in the 37th week of pregnancy, or earlier. If the labor happens during the 20th week, it’s referred to as miscarriage. Fortunately, preterm labor isn’t the norm.

Though most premature labor scenarios lead to delivery of premature babies, there are several exceptions. In fact, the doctors can take measures to delay early deliveries. If the preterm labor happens before 34 weeks and the doctors find no medical reason to initiate immediate delivery, the medical team could delay the labor by a few days. This would entail giving the baby corticosteroids to assist with the faster development of its lungs, heart and other organs, thereby increasing the baby’s survival rate and decreasing preterm birth risks.

Causes

Preterm labor could have the following background causes:

  • Alcohol, smoking and drug usage.
  • Small interval between subsequent pregnancies (another pregnancy within 18 months of previous delivery).
  • Inflammation-causing vaginal and uterine infections are the reasons behind 50 percent or more preterm births. Such inflammation leads to prostaglandins release – the substance that instigate labor during full-term.
  • Pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, excessive amniotic fluid presence, and also placenta issues: placental abruption or placenta praevia.
  • Cervix and/or uterus structural anomalies.
  • A preterm-born mother, or a previous premature delivery.
  • Dental infections, maternal age, weight (overweight or underweight) and stress levels are other instigators.

Signs and Symptoms

If any or more of the following symptoms show up, it’s recommended to immediately contact the doctor.

  • Excessive vaginal discharge.
  • A change in discharge type: mucus-like, watery, or bloody (even if the discharge is pink or slightly blood-tinged).
  • Any vaginal spotting or bleeding.
  • Menstrual-like cramps and abdominal pain.
  • Increased pressure or force in the pelvic region (a feeling akin to the baby pushing down).
  • Low back pain, particularly if there were no such pains before or if the back pain is rhythmic or dull.

The healthcare provider would first examine the cervix. If the cervix is starting to open, it could be due to premature labor.

Prevention and Treatment

Typically, addressing or eliminating the aforementioned symptoms and factors of premature labor should mitigate the trouble. In addition, the following should help too.

  • A healthy lifestyle and food, which includes taking prenatal vitamins.
  • Drinking plenty of water (more in temperate or hot weather conditions), since dehydration could cause contractions.
  • Eating more often (to regularly replenish the baby’s nutrient requirements).
  • Peeing, whenever the call comes. Holding in urine can lead to bladder inflammation and also urinary tract infections.

As far as medical treatments go, nausea-causing medicines are given to the expecting mother intravenously. At times, oral medicines are used for decreasing contraction frequency, which could make a pregnant woman feel better.