Your baby needs to continue to grow inside you for the full term of your pregnancy. Your due date is calculated based on your menstrual cycle since most people do not know the day they conceived. The human gestational period is 38 weeks from conception to birth. During a normal cycle, a woman has her menstrual period starting 2 weeks before her fertile period. So, that is why pregnancy is said to last 40 weeks.
What is preterm labor?
Labor earlier than three weeks before your due date can lead to the delivery of a premature baby with some associated risks.
Report to your Healthcare provider with any of the following symptoms:
- low, dull backache
- 6 or more contractions per hour, or every 10 minutes or less
- increased pelvic pressure (may include thigh cramps)
- something feeling different, such as sensation of baby dropping
- flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- increased vaginal discharge
- vaginal bleeding
- menstrual cramps
- sensation of the "baby rolling up in a ball"
- abdominal cramping (may include diarrhea)
- increased uterine activity compared to previous patterns
Before calling your doctor, there may be things you can do at home to stop the increased contractions. Having a full bladder or being dehydrated can cause these premature contractions, so once these problems are resolved, they may go away on their own.
- Stop what you are doing and empty your bladder
- drink 3-4 glasses of water
- lie down on your left side for one hour while feeling for and counting contractions
- put your hand on your abdomen and feel for tightening and hardening of your uterus
- count how many contractions you have during the hour you are lying down
- if your contractions do not slow down after these actions, call either your doctor's office or Labor and Delivery at your hospital immediately, and they will give you directions from there
- change in vaginal discharge, such as color or amount
- leaking clear fluid
- spotting or bleeding
- vaginal discharge with a fish-like odor immediately after intercourse
If you have some of these symptoms, and your doctor believes your are in preterm labor, you may be told to go to the hospital. Once you arrive, your doctor, midwife, or nurse may:
- ask about your medical history, including medications and supplements you have been taking during your pregnancy
- check your pulse, blood pressure, and temperature
- put a monitor on your belly to check the baby's heart rate and your contractions
- swab your cervix for fetal fibronectin, which can help predict the risk of delivering early
- get a urine sample to check for UTI and signs of infection
- check your cervix to see if it is opening
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What will happen if I am in preterm labor?
If you have been determined to be in preterm labor after all of these checks, they will first try to stop the labor, unless you are very late in pregnancy and have had a low-risk pregnancy. If they are unable to stop labor or if your water has already broken, they may do other things to slow it down and improve the risks for you and the baby. These are some things they may do once you are determined to be in preterm labor:
- give IV fluids
- give medicine to relax your uterus and stop labor
- give medicine to speed up the development of the baby's lungs
- give antibiotics
- admit you to the hospital
I personally experienced preterm labor with my first baby. I was around 26 or 27 weeks pregnant, and I noticed I was having a lot more Braxton-Hicks contractions than normal. I laid down on the couch and drank some water, but felt no relief. I laid on the couch for over an hour with contractions that were every 6-8 minutes apart, but they were not regular nor painful. So, I hesitantly called my doctor, and he told me to go ahead and come to the hospital. They took my vital signs and my urine and hooked me up to the monitor to find that I was in fact in labor with some strong contractions. My urine came back from the lab as positive for a urinary tract infection, so the doctor determined that the UTI was the reason my body went into labor. They gave me magnesium to stop my labor, which was an unpleasant experience because my blood pressure bottomed out, and they had to give me something else to raise my pressure. Once my labor stopped, and my blood pressure was normal, I was sent home with antibiotics for my UTI.
I was so thankful that everything worked out, and that I was able to have my big (9lbs, 2oz) healthy baby boy at 39 weeks. I pray that none of you have to experience preterm labor or delivery of a preterm baby as it can be a scary experience. But you can use this post as a reference if you are experiencing any symptoms.
Thanks for reading!