A healthy pregnancy concludes at 40 weeks of gestation. However, due to multiple reasons, some babies are born before time. A baby is considered preterm if it is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Though every pregnancy is different and equally unpredictable when it comes to birth, preterm labor can still be avoided to a large extent. Understanding the causes and signs leading to preterm labor can prove helpful if the mother knows what signs and symptoms to look out for.
Here is what causes preterm labor and what can be done to prevent it.
1. Specific Health Problems
Certain ailments like high blood pressure, diabetes, blood clotting, hypertension, or kidney diseases can increase the risk of a preterm labor. Women with such health issues need to be extra cautious of their health before they plan to conceive.
What Can Be Done: Usually, the doctors will monitor such pregnancies from early months till the end of the crucial third trimester. You may be prescribed certain medications to avoid preterm labor and keep the pregnancy going.
Obesity invites a number of chronic health conditions—it can even reduce the chances of fertility due to hormonal imbalance.1 No wonder, it can even hinder a normal pregnancy by triggering a preterm labor.2
What Can Be Done: Mothers are advised to gain their pregnancy weight in appropriate proportions. Those planning to have kids must maintain a healthy weight before conceiving.
Vaginal and urinary tract infections are the most common form of infections risking a pregnancy. Intrauterine infections like rubella (measles), toxoplasmosis ( a parasitic disease spread from cat’s stool), and herpes also pose a risk for the baby’s health. These infections can pass onto the baby from the mother through the uterine wall. Though the mother can recover from the ailments, it could be life-threatening for the baby.
Vaginal infections are bacterial, caused by having an intercourse with multiple partners, a new partner, or by douching. Symptoms include vaginal itching, unusually strong odor (vagina has some odor of its own), vaginal discharge in abnormal amount and unusual color, and a burning sensation during urination and after sexual intercourse.
Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)
UTI or bladder infections can occur any part of the urinary system—kidneys, urethra, ureters, or bladder. The risk of UTIs increases during pregnancy due to the weight of the expanding uterus that can prevent complete draining of urine to the bladder. Symptoms are frequent urge to urinate, burning sensation while urinating, foul odor of urine, whitish or red urine, and pain in pelvic area.
What Can Be Done: Your doctor will prescribe an antibiotics course that is safe for your pregnancy. Ask your family doctor about rubella vaccination before you plan to get pregnant. Pregnant moms who own cats must not do the job of cleaning the litter box.
4. Cervical Incompetence
Cervical incompetence happens when the cervix is not able to retain a pregnancy and begins to dilate and become thinner before the gestation is complete, resulting in a preterm delivery.3 Surprisingly, in some cases, the mother may not feel any contractions as the cervix widens. It is difficult to identify the dilation of cervix—in most cases, the cervical length is determined using ultrasounds to diagnose the condition.
What Can Be Done: It can be treated using surgical methods to narrow the cervical opening. The sutures are removed sometime between 36-38 weeks to prevent any hindrance to labor.
Keep an eye out for these risks factors associated with cervical incompetence—diagnosis of the similar condition in the previous pregnancy, premature breaking of water, abnormalities of the uterus, and cervical biopsy.
This condition is characterized by an excess amount of amniotic fluid around the baby in the uterus. Due to a higher amount of amniotic fluid, the uterus can stretch beyond the normal ability, which may lead to contractions before the pregnancy terms. Commonly, it happens due to maternal diabetes or birth defects wherein the baby doesn’t swallow the amniotic fluid as it should normally do when in the womb. Symptoms include a swollen belly unusual for the gestation age, lesser urination, excess swelling in hands and feet, and difficulty in breathing.
What Can Be Done: Your health expert will be removing the excess amniotic fluid through a procedure called amniocentesis. A small needle is inserted into the uterus through the abdomen—the procedure is guided by the ultrasound.
6. Abnormalities Of The Uterus
A preterm labor may also be triggered due to problems with the uterus, which could possibly be present in women by birth. For instance presence of a second uterus, abnormality in the shape of the uterus, or presence of a wall inside the uterus partitioning it into two spaces.
What Can Be Done: Many uterine abnormalities don’t require treatment and pregnancy can happen naturally. In a high-risk situation, uterine abnormalities can be treated with surgical means.
7. Water Breaking
Rupturing of the amniotic membrane around the baby is called water breaking. Many times, a water break is followed by the labor—it can also break during the labor. However, a rupture before the pregnancy reaches its term can lead to preterm labor and premature birth. Moms can watch out for fluid leaking through the vagina—the amniotic liquid may leak slowly or gush out. It could be mistaken for urine—to make sure smell it. It is usually colorless and sweet smelling.
What Can Be Done: If you notice your water break, call your doctor immediately. Apart from an early delivery, there is a risk of getting infected. If you are between 34 to 37 weeks of pregnancy, a labor might be induced to prevent a risk of infection. If the water breaks before 34 weeks of pregnancy, your doctor might delay the labor and put you on bed rest. You will be administered with steroids (to accelerate the development of baby’s lungs) and antibiotics (to prevent infections).
Risk Factors Associated With Preterm Labor
There are certain factors that can increase your risk of a preterm labor. Many of them are dependent upon lifestyle habits and can be avoided by ensuring proper maternal health.
1. Smoking, drinking alcohol and consuming street drugs can be dangerous for your pregnancy in many ways. Stay away from them to avoid any complications during pregnancy.
2. If the mother is overweight or underweight, her body is not healthy enough for pregnancy—the risks aways lurk around the corner. Maintain a healthy weight even before you plan on getting pregnant.
3. Health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and infections can be avoided using good hygiene practices and having a healthy lifestyle—eat healthily, exercise regularly, have sufficient sleep, and remain free of stress.
4. Good prenatal care is as significant as a good diet during pregnancy. It is undeniable that a mother needs lots of support and care from her partner and close friends and family.
5. Preterm labor can result in if the mother previously had a premature labor.
6. Twin or multiple pregnancies carry slight risks as well.
7. Conceiving immediately after having a baby could also pose a risk as the mother’s body is still recovering from the previous pregnancy.
Mothers, it is important to know rather than ignore these risks and related consequences. In case you develop concerns about your and your baby’s health, ask your health expert to provide you information and guide you right—avoid taking any chances with your baby.
|↑1||Couples with obesity may take longer to achieve pregnancy, NIH study suggests.National Institutes of Health|
|↑2||Cnattingius, Sven, Eduardo Villamor, Stefan Johansson, Anna-Karin Edstedt Bonamy, Martina Persson, Anna-Karin Wikström, and Fredrik Granath. “Maternal obesity and risk of preterm delivery.” Jama 309, no. 22 (2013): 2362-2370.|
|↑3||Parisi, Valerie M. “Cervical incompetence and preterm labor.” Clinical obstetrics and gynecology 31, no. 3 (1988): 585-598.|