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Preterm Labor: Signs & Signals

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Preterm labor is a serious concern for many pregnant women, as it can lead to the delivery of a premature baby. Preterm labor occurs when contractions begin before 37 weeks of pregnancy, and it affects about 12% of all pregnancies.

It is important to be aware of the signs of preterm labor so that you can seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of them.

Regular Contractions

One of the most common signs of preterm labor is regular contractions. These contractions may feel like menstrual cramps, and they may be accompanied by a lower backache or pressure in the pelvic area. Contractions that occur more frequently than every 10 minutes should be taken seriously, and you should seek medical attention immediately.

preterm labor diagnostics

Changes in the Cervix

Another sign of preterm labor is changes in the cervix, such as dilation or effacement. The cervix is the opening of the uterus, and it will begin to soften, thin out, and open up in preparation for labor. Your healthcare provider can check for these changes during a pelvic exam.

In addition to contractions and changes in the cervix, there are other signs that can indicate preterm labor. These include:

  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting: This can be a sign of a cervical or placental problem and should be reported to your healthcare provider immediately.
  • Vaginal discharge: An increase in vaginal discharge, especially if it is accompanied by an odor or itchiness, can be a sign of an infection, which can increase the risk of preterm labor.
  • Abdominal cramps: These can be similar to menstrual cramps and may be caused by the stretching of the uterus.
  • Pelvic pressure: This can feel like the baby is pushing down, and it can be caused by the baby’s head moving into the pelvis.
  • A change in the baby’s movements: If you notice a decrease in your baby’s movements or if they become less consistent, this can be a sign of distress and should be reported to your healthcare provider immediately.
  • A headache or visual disturbances: These can be a sign of pre-eclampsia, a serious complication of pregnancy that can lead to preterm labor.
  • Cramping or abdominal pain: In addition to contractions, many women experience cramping or abdominal pain as a sign of preterm labor. This pain may be similar to menstrual cramps and can be felt in the lower abdomen or lower back.
  • Fluid leakage: Leakage of fluid from the vagina may be a sign of preterm labor. This fluid is usually clear or slightly yellow and odorless, and it can be a sign that the amniotic sac has ruptured.
  • Fatigue: Fatigue is a common symptom of preterm labor and can be caused by the increased physical and emotional stress of labor.

Not all signs necessarily indicate preterm labor

It’s important to note that many of these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions such as a urinary tract infection, constipation, or even stress. It’s always best to consult with a healthcare provider if you suspect you might be in preterm labor.

However, if you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider right away. They will be able to give you a thorough exam and figure out why you are feeling the way you are.

Potentially life-threatening

Preterm labor can be a serious and potentially life-threatening condition, so it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms. Seek medical attention if you suspect that you may be in preterm labor. With proper care and treatment, many women are able to carry their baby to full term and have a healthy delivery.

If it is suspected, your healthcare provider may order a variety of tests to confirm the diagnosis. These may include a pelvic exam to check for changes in the cervix, an ultrasound to check the baby’s position and the amount of amniotic fluid, and a non-stress test to check the baby’s heart rate.

If preterm labor is confirmed

If it is confirmed, your healthcare provider will likely recommend a course of treatment to try to stop the labor and prevent preterm birth. This may include medications to stop contractions, bed rest, and hospitalization to monitor the baby’s well-being and your own health.

In some cases, it cannot be stopped, and a premature delivery is inevitable. In these cases, your healthcare provider will work with you to plan for the best possible outcome for you and your baby. This may include the use of steroids to help the baby’s lungs mature before delivery and the use of other medications to help prevent serious complications.

Proper Treatment

It’s important to remember that it is a serious concern, but with proper care and treatment, many premature babies go on to lead healthy and normal lives. If you suspect that you may be experiencing preterm labor, don’t hesitate to seek medical attention. The earlier you get help, the better the outcome will be for you and your baby.

Many pregnant women worry about preterm labor, so it’s important to know the signs and get medical help if any of them happen.

More info on webmd

About the Author

Dr. Jennifer Broad is a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist who has been practicing in Newport Beach, California for over a decade. She received her medical degree from the University of California, San Francisco, and completed her residency training at the University of California, Irvine.

Dr. Broad is dedicated to providing personalized care to her patients and is committed to staying up-to-date with the latest medical advances in her field. She is a fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and a member of the Orange County Medical Association.



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