A pregnancy is considered full-term anywhere from 37 – 42 weeks.
But what happens if you think you are going into labour well before 37 weeks? How do you know for sure – what are the signs you should be looking out for?
Labour before 37 weeks is called premature labour or pre-term labour and all pregnant women should be aware of the signs of pre-term labour.
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.
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 (Braxton Hicks contractions are often irregular and erratic)
- ruptured membranes – this could mean a gush of fluid or may just be a trickle of watery fluid. This could indicate that your water has broken.
- cramps – menstrual-like cramps
- back pain – pain in the lower back
- pressure – a feeling of the baby pushing down, pelvic pressure.
- vaginal discharge – leaking fluid, blood or a “show” of mucus from the vagina
If you experience any of these symptoms, or feel that something is “not right”, seek medical advice from your healthcare provider straightaway!
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.
Treatment of pre-term labour
If preterm 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).
– this article is based on information kindly provided by the National Premmie Foundation