It is the dream of every pregnant mother to have a perfectly healthy baby. For this to happen your baby must grow and mature inside your body until he is ready to enter the world as a new individual.
What is pre-term labor?
The average time period taken for the baby to get ready and come out is called a term, which is 37 weeks. Normally about 89% of pregnant mothers go into labor at term. But unfortunately some pregnant mothers may go in to labor sooner than that. When this happens between 20 weeks and 37 weeks of the pregnancy, it is called pre-term labour. This may be accompanied by breaking of the water bag, which is called “pre-term premature rupture of membranes”.
As it is by 37 weeks of pregnancy, that most of the organ systems of the baby has developed and matured enough, when labor begins too early there is a chance that the baby is not yet fit enough to be on his own. Born too early may mean your baby is at increased risk of having certain problems like breathing difficulty.
How do you know it is pre-term labor?
Detecting pre-term labor can be quite a tricky business. Why do I say this? Most of these symptoms can also be seen in a normal pregnancy. But considering how precious your pregnancy is it is always better to be vigilant about these symptoms and seek medical advice if you are having doubts.
- Abdominal contractions – more than four contractions per hour. When you place your fingers on the abdomen if you can feel the uterus tightening and relaxing that is an abdominal uterine contraction. When you are nearing the end of your pregnancy you may start to have false labor, also known as Braxton Hicks Contractions. These are practice contractions before real labor starts. But they are not regular, do not get closer together with time and can disappear with rest or a change in your position. If you are getting regular contractions that do not change with position or rest and is getting closer together with time, these are more likely to be true uterine contractions.
- Lower back pain and, pelvic pain and abdominal pain starting from lower back to move front-again these can be signs of normal pregnancy. But a new onset pain or a dull and rhythmic pain should be suspicious.
- Any change in vaginal discharge- If your vaginal discharge changes to mucus like, tinged with blood or vaginal bleeding occurs, it could be a sign of preterm labor.
- Leakage of watery fluids from the vagina- This can can be due to rupture of membranes. If in doubt whether it is urine, you can sniff a sample to see whether there is an ammonia smell. Absence of ammonia smell may be due to fluid from your amniotic sac or water bag.
Are there any risk factors for pre-term labor?
The exact mechanism of pre-term labor is not still perfectly clear. Yet many risk factors have been found for pre-term labor. You are said to have a higher risk for pre-term labor than a normal pregnancy, if you have
- Infections- mainly this means an infection in your genital tract like Bacterial Vaginosis, but an infection elsewhere like a urinary infection could also be the cause.
- A uterus which is larger than normal due to reasons like multiple babies, or excess fluid in your water bag.
- Some structural problem in your uterus and cervix, placenta or the baby.
- Undergone any abdominal surgery during pregnancy.
- A habit of smoking and use of drugs.
- Become pregnant soon after the previous pregnancy.
- Pregnancies with medical complications like high blood pressure and diabetics.
- Maternal age less than 17years or more than 35 years.
- Poor antenatal care.
- Severe emotional stress.
Are there any screening tests to detect pre-term labor?
Currently there are two tests to screen the possibility of a pregnant woman going into pre-term labor.
- Ultra sound scans measurement of the length of the cervix
If the length of you cervix in the scan has been shortened compared to your earlier scans, there is higher risk. Shortening of the cervix may mean that your cervix is incompetent, when it does not stay closed as it is supposed to do during the pregnancy.
- Fetal fibronectin levels
Fibronectin is a protein produced by the child inside you. If there is large amount of this found in your vaginal and cervical secretions during 24 to 34 weeks you are at a high chance of pre-term labor. A negative fibrnectin level will assure that you will not go into labor during the next two weeks.