Prematurity Awareness Month: Preterm Labor Risk Factors and Prevention

November is Prematurity Awareness Month

In the United States, 1 out of 10 of babies are born preterm, meaning they are born before they have completed full development during 37 to 40 weeks of pregnancy. Preterm labor babies are more often born with a disability and can also suffer short and long-term health effects including Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS), Apnea, Bradycardia, Chronic Lung Disease/Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia (BPD), Jaundice, and others. Preterm labor is also the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States.

November is Prematurity Awareness Month; this month, become better informed about what can cause preterm labor and how you can protect yourself and your child from the risks:

Preterm Labor Risk Factors:

  • Lack of prenatal care: Prenatal care is essential in ensuring you have a healthy pregnancy. You should schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as you think you may be pregnant. Your doctor can recommend other prenatal vitamins and care you may need.
  • Consuming alcohol: While the CDC recommends non-pregnant women limit their alcohol consumption to no more than one drink a day, pregnant women should avoid drinking at all. Drinking during pregnancy can lead to complications with preterm labor as well as fetal alcohol syndrome.
  • Smoking and using drugs: Smoking and drug use are strongly discouraged for all people, but especially for pregnant women. In addition to putting you at risk for preterm labor, smoking and drug use during pregnancy can result in a myriad of short and long-term health issues for both yourself and your baby.
  • Less time between pregnancies: Women who become pregnant less than 18 months after giving birth are more likely to experience preterm labor. Use birth control until you are ready to get pregnant again. If you did become pregnant before you planned to, discuss your concerns and a health care plan with your doctor at prenatal visits.
  • Being overweight or underweight before or during pregnancy: Doctors recommend eating a balanced and healthful diet to ensure your health and aid in your baby’s growth. If you were overweight or underweight before or during pregnancy, including having an eating disorder, you and your baby’s health may be at risk. Talk to your doctor about the right types of food and the right amount of exercise for you.
  • Pre-existing conditions: Conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid problems, and depression can all increase your chances of preterm labor because of their effects on your body. If you know you have a pre-existing condition, talk to your doctor about managing and treating it as soon as you know you are pregnant.
  • Infections: Infections can come from various sources including environmental factors or other infected people. Protect yourself and your child by following your doctor’s vaccination recommendations. As well as becoming vaccinated, you should take regular infection-prevention precautions like washing hands regularly; avoiding raw eggs, meat, and fish; and having safe sex. Pregnant women should also avoid touching animal feces, including cat litter.

Signs & Symptoms of Preterm Labor:

  • Regular and frequent contractions. Contractions may or may not be painful and will make your belly tighten.
  • Constant dull back ache or belly cramps without diarrhea.
  • Your water breaks.
  • Pressure in your belly, like the baby is pressing downwards.
  • Change in your vaginal discharge to have more mucus, water, or blood.

If You Are Experiencing Preterm Labor:

You should call your doctor immediately. Your physician may perform a pelvic exam or a transvaginal ultrasound to determine how far your labor has progressed. Depending on your situation, your doctor may recommend treatment to either stop your labor or improve your baby’s health before birth. Types of treatments include:

  • Bed rest: Although research is unclear about whether or not bed rest plays an effective role in slowing down preterm labor, doctors usually prescribe it to be on the safe side. Depending on your condition, bed rest may be prescribed for a certain amount of time each day, or full time, meaning you stay calm and still in bed each day until your delivery.
  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics may be prescribed if you have experienced preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM), meaning the protective sac around your baby has broken prematurely.
  • Cerclage: If you have a low cervix, your doctor may perform cerclage. This is where a stitch is put into your cervix to keep it closed until 37 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Antenatal corticosteroids (ACS): Antenatal corticosteroids can help speed up the development of your baby’s lungs before birth. This can help reduce both short-term and long-term health effects associated with premature birth.
  • Tocolytics:  Usually only prescribed on a short-term basis, tocolytics can slow down labor, but usually only for a few days. Tocolytics can buy you time to seek other treatment. Prolonged use of tocolytics can lead to other health issues.
  • Progesterone: There are several types of progesterone that may be prescribed and administered including vaginal progesterone and progesterone shots. Regardless of what time of progesterone is given, the hormone should help your uterus continue to grow and stop it from experiencing contractions.

Ready to learn more about prenatal care and get connected to a team of healthcare professionals? Contact your local Capital Women’s Care today for an appointment.

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The providers of Capital Women's Care seek the highest quality medical and ethical standard in an environment that nurtures the spirit of caring for every woman.


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