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How to recognize preterm labor

You feel what you think are contractions, but is it Braxton-Hicks or is your baby making an early appearance? From recognizing signs of preterm labor to reducing your likelihood of preterm delivery, discover how to know that it’s time to call your OB and let them know your baby may be on his way.

pregnant-woman-worriedWhat is preterm labor?

A normal pregnancy lasts 37 to 40 weeks. However, when you experience signs of labor between 20 and 37 weeks, it is considered preterm labor. Preterm labor, also known as premature labor, occurs in about 12 percent of all pregnancies, according to the American Pregnancy Association, but you can reduce your likelihood of experiencing early labor and delivery.

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How can I reduce likelihood of preterm delivery?

Although the causes of preterm labor are not know, you may reduce your chance of a preterm delivery by recognizing the symptoms of preterm labor and avoiding associated lifestyle risks.

Lifestyle risks can be avoided to reduce the probability of preterm labor:

  • Lack of prenatal care
  • Domestic violence
  • High stress levels
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Using illegal drugs
  • Long working hours
  • Long periods of standing

Pregnant women who have certain medical risk factors may have a higher possibility of going into labor prematurely. It’s even more important for women who have any of the following risk factors to learn the signs of preterm labor:

  • Pregnant with multiples
  • History of premature birth
  • Specific uterine or cervical abnormalities
  • Bladder, kidney, urinary tract or vaginal infection infections
  • Infections from sexually transmitted diseases
  • Unexplained vagina bleeding after 20 weeks of pregnancy
  • High blood pressure or diabetes
  • Multiple abortions
  • Pre-pregnancy weight issues
  • Thrombophilia
  • Less than six to nine months between birth and next pregnancy

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What are warning signs of preterm labor?

Braxton-Hicks contractions occur throughout your pregnancy as your body readies for labor. However, regular contractions work to open your cervix and get your body ready for the delivery room. Look for the following signs of labor before 37 weeks gestation:

  • Tightening in your abdomen in a regular pattern or more frequently, such as one every 10 minutes for an hour, even after having a glass of water and resting
  • Fluid leaking or gushing from your vagina
  • Menstrual cramp-like pain with or without diarrhea
  • Pressure in your pelvis
  • Pain when pressing on your tummy
  • Unexplained fever or extreme fatigue
  • Dull backache in your lower back, lower abdomen, thighs or pelvic area that does not go away

“Although it’s easy to get caught up in hectic day-to-day schedules, it’s really important for moms to listen to their bodies,” advises Marilyn Curl, CNM, MSN, LCCE, FACCE and president of Lamaze International. “If you sense something is off, pay close attention to any contractions or other symptoms you may be experiencing.”

Think you’re experiencing signs of preterm labor? The first thing to do is drink a glass of water and rest. If symptoms persist, contact your OB/GYN immediately. You may be instructed to empty your bladder, lie on your left side, avoid laying flat on your back or head to the hospital. Premature labor does not always lead to preterm delivery, so learn how to recognize preterm labor so you can known when to seek help and give your baby the best start possible.

More on labor and delivery

8 Natural ways to induce labor
Am I in labor? 6 signs labor is starting
Coping with labor-related fears

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