Preterm labor occurs when regular contractions end in the opening of your cervix after week 20 and before week 37 of pregnancy.
Preterm labor can result in premature birth. The earlier premature birth happens, the greater the health risks for your baby. Many premature babies (preemies) need special care within the neonatal medical care unit. Preemies also can have long-term mental and physical disabilities.
The specific explanation for preterm labor often isn't clear. Certain risk factors might increase the prospect of preterm labor, but preterm labor also can occur in pregnant women with no known risk factors.
Signs and symptoms of preterm labor include:
Ø Regular or frequent sensations of abdominal tightening (contractions)
Ø Constant low, dull backache
Ø A sensation of pelvic or lower abdominal pressure
Ø Mild abdominal cramps
Ø Vaginal spotting or light bleeding
Ø Preterm rupture of membranes — in a gush or a continuous trickle of fluid after the membrane around the baby breaks or tears
Ø A change in type of vaginal discharge — watery, mucus-like or bloody
Preterm labor can affect any pregnancy. Many factors are related to an increased risk of preterm labor, however, including:
Ø Pregnancy with twins, triplets or other multiples
Ø Shortened cervix
Ø Problems with the uterus or placenta
Ø Smoking cigarettes or using illicit drugs
Ø Certain infections, particularly of the amniotic fluid and lower genital tract
Ø Stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one
Ø Too much amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios)
Ø Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy
Ø Presence of a fetal birth defect
Ø An interval of less than 12 months — or of more than 59 months — between pregnancies
Ø Age of mother, both young and older
Ø Black, non-Hispanic race and ethnicity
You might not be able to prevent preterm labor — but there's much you can do to promote a healthy, full-term pregnancy. For example:
Ø Seek regular prenatal care - Prenatal visits can help your health care provider monitor your health and your baby's health. Mention any signs or symptoms that concern you. If you've got a history of preterm labor or develop signs or symptoms of preterm labor, you would possibly get to see your health care provider more often during pregnancy.
Ø Eat a healthy diet - Healthy pregnancy outcomes are generally associated with good nutrition. In addition, some research suggests that a diet high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) is associated with a lower risk of premature birth. PUFAs are found in nuts, seeds, fish and seed oils.
Ø Avoid risky substances - If you smoke, quit. Ask your health care provider about a smoking cessation program. Illicit drugs are off-limits, too.
Ø Consider pregnancy spacing - Some research suggests a link between pregnancies spaced but six months apart, or quite 59 months apart, and an increased risk of premature birth. Consider lecture your health care provider about pregnancy spacing.
Ø Be cautious when using assisted reproductive technology (ART) - If you're getting to use ART to urge pregnant, consider what percentage embryos are going to be implanted. Multiple pregnancies carry a better risk of preterm labor.
Ø Manage chronic conditions - Certain conditions, like diabetes, high vital sign and obesity, increase the danger of preterm labor. Work with your health care provider to keep any chronic conditions under control.
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