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Premature labour signs and treatment

Pregnant woman worried about early or premature labour and the signsLabour that starts between 24 and 37 weeks is called premature labour or pre-term labour and all pregnant women should be aware of the signs.

Even if your pregnancy is not classed as high risk, you should still be aware of the signs of premature labour as many of the causes of pre-term birth are still unknown.

So how will you know for sure—what are the signs you should be aware of?

Signs of premature labour

Signs and symptoms of pre-term labour can include, but are not limited to, the following.

Contractions

Contractions that are painful or regular and consistent in length and spacing. You might have been feeling your uterus tighten throughout your pregnancy but these are Braxton Hicks contractions, which are often irregular and erratic. Labour contractions usually last more than 30 seconds and are regular and painful.

Tummy or back pain

The start of labour sometimes feels like lower tummy pain or lower back pain, similar to the heavy aching constant pain many women feels when they have their period.

Ruptured membranes

Ruptured membranes—commonly known as your ‘waters breaking’—is when the amniotic sac breaks. This could mean a gush of fluid or may just be a trickle of watery fluid that you cannot control (unlike urine which you can stop). If this happens use a pad (not tampon) to soak up the fluid and call your doctor or midwife immediately. They will want to know how much fluid you have lost as well as the colour and smell.

A show

A ‘show”‘ of mucus from the vagina. When the plug of mucus in the cervix, which has helped seal the uterus in pregnancy, comes away as vaginal discharge it is called a ‘show’. This can be an early sign of labour but it can also happen weeks before labour starts. The show is usually mucus stained with old blood, but if there is a discharge of fresh blood not mixed with mucus you should get in touch with your midwife of doctor immediately.

If you experience any of these symptoms, or feel that something is “not right”, seek medical advice from your healthcare provider immediately!

Often it will be a false alarm, but it’s better to be safe than sorry and your experienced healthcare provider will be able to make a better judgement on what steps to take next.

Management of pre-term labour

If preterm labour is suspected you should contact your health care provider immediately so you can be assessed and examined. The assessment will usually include:

  • monitoring baby’s heart.
  • an examination to see if your cervix is opening and if your membrane has ruptured.
  • observation of your contractions.

If premature labour is determined there are a number of treatments that can be used to stop or delay the labour. These include bed rest, hydration and administration of medications to try and halt the labour.

If it appears that birth is imminent and the baby is between 24 and 34 weeks gestation, a corticosteroid may be given to the mother 24 hours before birth in an attempt to increase the baby’s lung and brain development.

Although bed rest, fluids and labour-inhibiting medications including steroids may be prescribed, these attempts often merely offer a short delay in the delivery to allow physicians time to speed up the development of the baby’s lungs and, if necessary, transfer the mother to a hospital that is better equipped for premature babies, such as one with a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

The content in this article should be used as a guide only. If you experience any health-related concerns you should contact your local healthcare provider or nearest emergency department.

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