What is Preterm Labor and Delivery?
Dr. Kamela Khalid
Mosque road, Bengaluru Feb 2, 2017
Going into preterm labor does not mean you'll have a premature baby. Up to half of the women who experience preterm labor eventually deliver at 37 weeks or later.
About a quarter of preterm births are planned. If you or your baby has a complication and is not doing well, your medical team might decide to induce labor early or perform a cesarean section before 37 weeks. (This might happen if you have a serious medical condition, such as severe or worsening preeclampsia or if your baby has stopped growing).
Causes of Preterm Delivery
Preterm delivery has several causes. Sometimes a woman goes into labor early for no obvious reason. At other times there may be a medical reason for early labor and delivery. The chart below lists the causes of preterm delivery and the percentages of women who deliver early due to each cause. In this chart, the category ?preterm labor? refers to women who have no known reason for early labor and delivery.
What are the symptoms of preterm labor?
Call your midwife or doctor right away if you're having any of the following symptoms before 37 weeks:
- More vaginal discharge than usual
- A change in the type of discharge – if you're leaking watery fluid or your discharge becomes watery, mucus-like, or bloody (even if it's pink or just tinged with blood)
- Any vaginal bleeding or spotting
- Abdominal pain, menstrual-like cramping, or more than four contractions in one hour (even if they don't hurt)
- More pressure in the pelvic area (a feeling that your baby is pushing down)
- Low back pain, especially if it's dull or rhythmic, or you didn't previously have back pain
How is preterm labor diagnosed?
Preterm labor can be diagnosed only when changes in the cervix are found. Your obstetrician or other health care professional may perform a pelvic exam to see if your cervix has started to change. You may need to be examined several times over a period of a few hours. Your contractions also may be monitored.
Your obstetrician or other health care professional may do certain tests to determine whether you need to be hospitalized or if you need immediate specialized care. A transvaginal ultrasound exam may be done to measure the length of your cervix. The level of a protein called fetal fibronectin in the vaginal discharge may be measured. The presence of this protein is linked to preterm birth.
What could happen if my baby is premature?
Preterm birth can cause serious health problems or even be fatal for a baby, particularly if it happens very early. In general, the more mature a baby is at birth, the better his chances of surviving and being healthy.
Some preterm babies may have problems breathing. Prematurity also puts a baby at a greater risk for brain hemorrhage. The nervous system, gastrointestinal tract, and other organs may be affected too. Preterm babies are more prone to infection and jaundice and may have difficulty feeding as well as trouble maintaining their body temperature.