Premature Labor & Delivery

While a pregnancy usually lasts for 40 weeks, women may go into labor earlier, from a few weeks to a few months before the expected due date. Premature labor is classified as labor that occurs between the 20th and 37th weeks of pregnancy. But as an increased number of women are experiencing premature labor and delivery, care for babies born prematurely is improving, and many are able to survive with little to no complications.

Certain actions may place a woman at a higher risk of delivering prematurely. These may include the following:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Illegal drug use
  • Smoking
  • Little or no prenatal care
  • Stress
  • Exposure to environmental pollutants
  • Domestic abuse
  • Long working hours with long periods of standing

It is important to note that even though a woman goes into premature labor, it does not necessarily mean that premature delivery will follow. There are medications available to stop premature labor once it has started. These medications include magnesium sulfate, corticosteroids or oral medications to reduce the frequency of contractions. Some women may be placed on bed rest if delivery does not appear to be likely.

Causes of Premature Labor

There are several possible reasons for premature labor. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Previous premature birth
  • Uterine or vaginal infection
  • Chronic conditions (high blood pressure, diabetes)
  • Smoking or drinking alcohol
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Multiple pregnancy
  • Abnormalities of the uterus or cervix
  • Severe emotional stress

Patients can reduce their risk of premature labor by receiving proper prenatal care and following their doctor's recommendations for nutrition, work and rest during their pregnancy.

Symptoms of Premature Labor

Some patients may not realize they are going into premature labor, which is why it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms to seek medical attention when needed. Premature labor often causes the following:

  • Cramps
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Indigestion

Contractions may begin and occur every ten minutes or more frequently. Most women also experience a watery fluid leaking from the vagina and pelvic pressure that feels like the baby is pushing down.

If symptoms worsen or persist for more than an hour, you should seek medical attention immediately so that your cervix can be examined. If the cervix is opening, premature labor is likely in progress.

Risks of Premature Labor

Premature labor can impact the baby's health and lead to the following conditions:

  • Increased risk of brain and other neurological complications
  • Breathing problems
  • Digestive problems
  • Developmental delays
  • Learning disabilities

The degree and risk of health problems the baby will have is directly related to how early the baby is born.

Additional Resources