A Quick Guide to Understanding Preterm Labour
Every mum-to-be wishes for a healthy and smooth-sailing pregnancy. Most pregnancies last for about 38-40 weeks, after which it is termed as full term. Few expecting women however, experience labour before this period!
Premature contractions are scary and need immediate medical intervention. However, not all preterm contractions result in premature delivery. Here are the reasons behind preterm labour and ways to prevent them.
What can cause Preterm Labour?
Carrying Multiples: When an expecting mum is carrying twins or triplets, the weight of the babies reaches full term much earlier. It becomes difficult for the uterus to carry this extra weight and hence the process of labor may begin little earlier than normal. If you’re carrying multiples, your doctor will monitor you more closely and rest will be advised if preterm labor is expected.
Polyhydramnios: This is a condition where there is excess amniotic fluid. Your doctor will monitor your fluid levels in your regular scans and may ask you to take it easy if there is excess fluid. The weight of the excess fluid can put pressure on the cervix (which is the mouth of the uterus) and cause labor to start a little early. In some cases, medication may also be prescribed.
Vaginal Infections and Urinary Tract Infection(UTI): Bacterial vaginosis and UTIs create an unhealthy environment around the uterus and the developing baby. As a defense mechanism, the body goes into preterm labor to protect the baby. The good news is that most vaginal infections and UTIs are diagnosed early and with the right medications can be treated without causing any complications.
Incompetent Cervix: In some cases, the cervix starts to shorten and opens early in pregnancy. This is primarily due to hormonal changes in the mother.
If a mother has a history of repeated miscarriages or if the doctor has diagnosed an incompetent cervix, the mother will be advised to have a cerclage, or a cervical stitch. This will hold the cervix in place till full term and when the baby is ready to be born, the doctor removes the stitch.
Placenta Previa or Placental Abruption: The former condition occurs when the placenta covers the cervix and latter when the placenta comes away from the wall of the uterus.
Placenta previa can result in spotting and bleeding which can happen all throughout pregnancy. Most moms with this condition are prescribed complete rest.
Placental Abruption is generally caused by other conditions such as Preeclampsia or Eclampsia and they have many warning signs such as elevated blood pressure, protein in the urine, excessive edema etc.
If either of these conditions are diagnosed, it is best to follow the doctor’s instructions.
Structural malformation or failure to thrive: If for some reason there is a major birth defect or if the baby fails to develop, the body has a natural mechanism which works towards expelling the baby.
Most of these cases result in early miscarriage which is by week 12 of pregnancy. There is very little that can be done to prevent this and it is considered a natural course of nature to ensure that a nonviable fetus does not develop into a full grown baby which would have developmental problems all through life.
Type 2 Diabetes or high blood pressure: If a mum-to-be suffers from both these conditions, it is important that there is regular monitoring of the pregnancy. All medical instructions must be followed to ensure a healthy, full term pregnancy.
Mother’s inadequate nutrition: This refers to cases of extreme malnourishment and not just marginal nutritional cheats that we do everyday. The developing baby feeds off the mother and if the mother has a compromised nutritional state, it will be difficult for the baby to survive.
Exposure to alcohol, cigarettes or drugs: This is one of the leading causes of preterm labor and miscarriage. Even if the pregnancy completes full term, the baby is born with defects due to the exposure of toxins.
It is best to avoid alcohol, cigarettes and drugs from three months prior to conception and continue abstinence all through pregnancy and breastfeeding. Passive smoking can also have a negative impact on a pregnancy hence it is best to stay away from places where there is high exposure to passive smoking.
The loss of a pregnancy can be very traumatic for both parents. Some causes are natural and cannot be avoided but many could be preempted. All it takes is a little caution and care from our end as pregnancy is after all a huge responsibility – the responsibility of bringing a new life into this world.
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