Preterm labour is also referred to as `premature’ labour. Any labour that occurs prior to thirty-seven weeks of a pregnancy case is defined as preterm. The normal length of human gestation is forty weeks or two hundred and eighty days. As the body nears the date of delivery, pregnant women will have regular contractions that cause the cervix to open and then stretch.
Difference between Preterm Labour and Braxton- Hicks Contractions
Braxton-Hicks contractions start around half-way through the pregnancy, when the uterus tightens. These contractions are normal and harmless while being irregular and short. These contractions will occur more regularly towards the end of the pregnancy. All women have Braxton-Hicks contractions but only some of them actually feel them. Preterm contractions, on the other hand, will be more intense and they occur more frequently.
What are the symptoms of Preterm Labour?
These contractions can occur anytime between 20th and 37th week of pregnancy. The signs include:
- Contractions occur with regularity
- They are painful
- Severe lower back pain is experienced
- Intestinal cramping or diarrhoea occurs
- Increased vaginal discharge takes place
- Menstrual cramps are experienced above the pubic bone
- Changes in type of discharge could be observed
If you have not yet reached 37 weeks since the onset of pregnancy and you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above or have over four contractions in an hour, you should get medical assistance immediately as you might be experiencing premature labour. By placing your fingertips lightly on your abdomen, you can feel your contractions.
How can you delay Preterm delivery?
- Bed Rest - Your attending physician may ask you to rest in bed and lie still, preferably on your left side in order to improve circulation of blood.
- Take Prescription Medicine - Progesterone is generally prescribed along with Cerclage which is a stitch in the cervix to keep it closed in order to prevent preterm labour.
- Drink lots of fluids.
If the symptoms still persist, doctors will have to closely monitor these signs.
Prevention of Preterm Labour
These are precautions you can take to avoid preterm labour -
- Drink fluids regularly to prevent dehydration. This helps in preventing irritability of the uterus. Eight ounces of water or juice is required for sufficient hydration.
- Eat healthy food and at regular intervals.
- Stay active (unless advised otherwise) as this will reduce risk of conditions like pre-eclampsia, which could lead to premature birth of your baby.
- Decrease the risk of urinary tract infection by keeping your bladder empty.
- Try to be in stress-free environments. Stress could induce premature contractions.
- Give up smoking, drinking and recreational drugs. Smoking is directly linked to premature births; the more you smoke, greater will be the chances of going into preterm labour.
- Avoid animal borne infections by washing your hands after touching animals.
- Improve general hygiene.
- Sit down with your legs elevated for about an hour.
- Avoid lifting heavy objects.
There is no need to panic or be scared when you go into preterm labour. It is always advisable to depend on a medical provider in case of preterm labour. Pay close attention to uterine activity, drink plenty of fluids and avoid stressful environments to be in control of the preterm labour situation.