Are You At Risk Of Having Preterm Labour?
According to the WHO, more than 60% of preterm births occur in Africa and South Asia. Find out the signs of preterm labour, the risk factors and more
A full-term pregnancy is supposed to last between 37 to 40 weeks, while preterm labour usually occurs after 20 weeks but never after 37 weeks. The earlier preterm birth happens, the greater the health risks for your baby. According to the World Health Organisation, more than 60% of preterm births occur in Africa and South Asia. Find out the signs of preterm labour, symptoms and prevention.
What are the signs of preterm labour?
Babies are less developed when they are born premature, which is grouped according to severity. 23 to less than 28 weeks is extremely premature, while 28 to 32 weeks is very premature, and 32 to 36 is moderately premature.
Though when it comes to signs of preterm labour things get a bit tricky, because most women who experience the signs might end up not having preterm labour. However, it is far better to be able to recognise the signs when you see them than to not know them at all. Recognising the signs early will help you seek treatment quickly. The following are signs of preterm labour:
- Regular contractions: If every ten minutes you're experiencing contractions that don't go away even when you change position, then that may be a symptom of preterm labour. Call your doctor if you're not sure.
- Cramps: Feeling the same type of cramps you feel below your abdomen during pregnancy can be a sign of preterm labour.
- Leaking fluid from your vagina: This could be a sign that your water has broken, which is one of the signs of labour. Sniff it to check if it smells like urine. If it doesn't then that could be some of your water.
- Back pain: Feeling a constant pain in the back may be an indication that you're about to go into preterm labour.
- Increased pressure in your pelvis: Call your doctor immediately if you're feeling pressure in your pelvic.
Causes and risk factors of preterm labour
Experts haven't been able to pinpoint a particular cause of preterm labour, but they've pointed to a few likely factors.
- Little space between pregnancies
Studies have shown that women who take less than a year to get pregnant again delivered before 37 weeks, so giving a little more time before getting pregnant again is a way of reducing the risk.
- Vaginal infections
Sexually transmitted diseases and genital tract infections are responsible for preterm labour. These infections cause inflammation that affects the substance that is responsible for starting labour when it's due.
- Alcohol, smoking and using drugs
These habits increase the chances of preterm labour during pregnancy and also putting the baby at risk of being born early. These substances limit the amount of oxygen your baby gets, so do not smoke when you're pregnant.
Complications that can lead to preterm labour include gestational diabetes, placenta problems and excessive amniotic fluid.
- Problems with the structure of the cervix or uterus
If your uterus is unusually large or has structural problems, you may find it difficult to carry a baby for over 37 weeks. The same kind of problem may occur if your cervix is short in length, because it will not be able to stay closed as it should during the whole pregnancy.
- Gum infections
Pregnancy hormones make pregnant women more likely to get gum infections, which experts have linked to preterm labour. The bacteria that are responsible for gum infections sometimes find their way into the woman's bloodstream to trigger preterm labour.
- Stress levels and occupational factors
The kind of stress that comes from a traumatic experience can cause a woman to deliver before full-term. Also, women who have jobs that require them to stand for long hours at a time are more likely to deliver preterm.
You're more likely to deliver preterm if you're below the age of 17 and above 35. It is for this reason that doctors refer to older women's pregnancy as high risk.
Being a preterm baby yourself increases the chances of delivery before full-term. According to a 2015 study, women who were born prematurely are more likely to not reach full-term. Additionally, if you've previously given birth prematurely you stand a higher chance of giving birth prematurely.
How can I prevent preterm labour?
Technology has made it possible for doctors to safely treat most children born preterm. However, this doesn't mean that you shouldn't try and prevent it from happening in the first place. Here are a few things you can do to prevent preterm labour:
- A regular visit to the doctor: Seeing your doctor as regularly as you can will help catch any problems that may arise early.
- Enough space between pregnancies: Make sure you give yourself over 18 months before getting pregnant again.
- Watch your weight: Increased weight during pregnancy leaves you open to diseases like diabetes, which can cause preterm labour. Also, make sure you don't lose too much weight as well.
- Prenatal vitamins: Prenatal vitamins increase your chances of going full-term. So make sure you take your daily prenatal vitamins.
- Balanced diet: Eating a well-balanced diet helps your baby develop properly, but the nutrients you get from your diet also help prevent preterm labour.
- Drink a lot of water: Drinking enough water will keep you well hydrated during pregnancy. Drink even more if you're exercising. Staying hydrated helps prevent premature contractions.
- Take care of your gums: Do all you can to take care of your gums by brushing and flossing regularly. Make sure to have a dentist take a look at your gums at least once during your pregnancy.
For high-risk women, it is important to take tests that can help determine whether you can go full-term carrying your baby. They're not always accurate, but a negative result can go a long way in putting your heart at rest.