Preterm labor: Signs and symptoms

It feels like there are a host of new symptoms every month of your pregnancy and you...

It feels like there are a host of new symptoms every month of your pregnancy and you worry about complications. Some of these symptoms are normal and some are not. Educate yourself to recognize the signs for an abnormal and a normal healthy pregnancy. One of the most serious complications you should recognize is premature labor.

What is preterm labor?

According to the Mayo Clinic, 35 weeks after conception or known as 37 weeks, the organs inside your baby are able to function independent of your body. Giving birth a week or two early, before the 40 weeks, or even a week late is considered to be normal. Having your baby at 37 weeks (three weeks before your due date) or earlier is considered preterm labor.

Unfortunately, a baby that is born earlier than 37 weeks can increase the health risk for your child. In certain cases, preterm labor can be controlled by certain intravenous medications to control the contractions of the uterus, bed rest, and monitoring in a hospital.

Signs and symptoms

  • Low abdominal cramps, similar to menstrual or gas cramps
  • Pressure in the pelvis or lower abdomen
  • Changes in vaginal discharge, like spotting or bleeding
  • Increased vaginal discharge, leaking of fluids or a gush of water
  • Chronic and persistent low back pain that cannot be relieved by changing positions
  • Flu like symptoms including fever, fatigue, body aches, chills, shakes

If you are having any of the symptoms listed above for an extended amount of time, it would be wise to contact your OB/GYN immediately.

One of the main signs to be on the lookout for are contractions, which occur when the uterus tightens and relaxes, preparing itself for the birth of your baby. Contractions can begin after 20 weeks and will cause preterm labor. Certain contractions that last for a short time, called Braxton-Hicks contractions, are considered normal and the body's way of practicing for the real thing.

If you are having any type of contractions, it is very important to monitor the activity. Monitor the duration of the contraction, from when it starts and when it ends. Monitor them for an hour and count how many contractions you are having per hour. If you have:

  • Eight or more contractions per hour
  • Four contractions every 20 minutes

Contact your OB/GYN immediately and possibly to the emergency room, especially if you are experiencing these symptoms before the 37th week of your pregnancy.

Risk factors for premature labor

Not all women that have preterm labor actually give birth. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology, only 10 percent of women who have premature labor give birth within seven days. You are more prone to have premature labor if:

  • you have experienced premature labor before
  • short time between pregnancies
  • smoking or substance abuse during pregnancy
  • low pre-pregnancy weight
  • history of cervical or uterine surgery

If you have already been diagnosed with preeclampsia or other complications, closely monitor yourself and keep in touch with your doctor.

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