Premature labor or pre-term labor starts three weeks before the due date of delivery (usually before 37 weeks of pregnancy). A fetus that stays within the amniotic bag for a longer duration will have lesser problems after birth. Premature labor leads to premature birth and occurs in 12% of pregnancies. Understanding the risk factors and symptoms will help in reducing the chances of premature labor.
Premature labor occurs because of uterine contractions that open the cervical canal earlier than the specified date. A number of factors increase the risk of pre-term labor. This includes
- Being overweight
- Smoking and drinking
- Conditions like pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure, diabetes, infections, and blood clotting disorders
- Having fetus with birth defects
- Multiple pregnancies
- History of premature labor
- Pregnancy too soon after one delivery
Knowing the symptoms will help in getting assistance at the right time. Some of the common signs of pre-term labor include
- Pain in lower back
- Abdominal cramps similar to menstrual cramps
- Leakage of vaginal fluid
- Pressure in vagina
- Light bleeding from vagina
- Uterine contractions that repeat every 10 minutes or so
Some of these may seem normal during pregnancy, but if in doubt do not hesitate to call your doctor.
How to spot pre-term labor
During a contraction, you can feel the uterus tightening and then relaxing after a period of time. Time your contractions by noting the time of one contraction and the time for the next contraction. Change your position or drink 2-3 glasses of water to see whether contraction stops. If you still have contractions, do call your midwife or doctor.
Some women may have false contractions, called Braxton Hicks contractions, which are harmless. These contractions often stop when one moves around or relax. They are not a part of true labor.