If a woman is pregnant and she has regular contractions and the cervix dilates before her 37th week of pregnancy, she is said to be in preterm labor. Preterm labor is usually a spontaneous event in which the body starts the process.
Occasionally a caregiver (doctor, midwife) will initiate preterm labor in order to deliver the baby early if there is a pregnancy complication that puts the baby or mother at risk.
Spontaneous preterm labor can be caused by cervix complications, by an abnormal placenta, a genital tract infection, by bacteria that causes the amniotic sac to become weak leading to premature rupture of the bags, or when chronic illness of the mom-to-be threatens the pregnancy. Chronic illnesses can also be at fault, such as severe asthma, diabetes, or sickle cell anemia.
Preterm Labor Risk Factors
Other risk factors for preterm labor include alcohol or drug use, smoking tobacco products, poor weight gain or malnutrition. Although there are risks for preterm labor only approximately 50% of women who experience it fall into any of these risk areas, so preterm labor can happen to any pregnant woman.
There are however, three groups of pregnant women who are at greater risk for preterm labor and those groups are those who have had a previous preterm birth, those who are pregnant with twins, triplets or higher order multiples, and those women who have certain cervical or uterine abnormalities.
Women may also be at risk for pre-term labor if they have a periodontal disease, or suffer from an infection, have a hormonal imbalance, incompetent cervix, uterine irritability, placenta previa, teen pregnancy, or maternal age over 40.
Sometimes an abnormality of the fetus can trigger preterm labor. If a woman gets pregnant after having a previous preterm labor she is more likely to have a repeat experience of preterm labor with this and subsequent pregnancies.
Signs and Symptoms
All pregnant women should become familiar with the signs and symptoms of preterm labor. If a woman can detect preterm labor early enough, premature birth can be prevented. There are the warning signs of premature labor that all pregnant women should know:
A sudden gush of clear watery fluid coming from the vagina or an increase in the amount of vaginal discharge can signal preterm labor.
If you experience any kind of bleeding especially when cramping or contractions of more than 5 in one hour accompany it you may be in preterm labor.
Other warning signs of preterm labor may be pressure in your pelvic region, low back pain or pressure in the lower back, puffiness or a swelling of the hands or face, and also vomiting.
Preterm labor is a complication of pregnancy because it can end pregnancy before the baby is ready to survive in the outside world. Preterm labor can lead to prematurity and for the baby this means a lifetime of possible physical, mental and emotional challenges.