Many women who have preterm births have no known risk factors. Many cases of preterm labor begin for reasons that neither your doctors nor you will ever know. All pregnant women should be considered to be at risk for preterm birth and each should know the signs of premature labor.
What Are the Signs of Premature Labor?
Symptoms often (but not always) alert women to preterm labor. It is important to seek help with any of the warning signs below. A warning sign does not necessarily indicate preterm labor, but it does mean that you should contact your doctor or midwife.
Signs of Premature Labor
- Pelvic pressure: Sometimes this sensation of fullness and pressure is your only warning sign.
- Menstrual-like cramps (even if occasional)
- Watery or bloody vaginal discharge
- Pain in the lower back (usually dull and may be only occasional)
- Abdominal cramping (with or without diarrhea)
What Should You Do?
- Stop doing whatever you were doing when the symptoms began.
- Lie down on your left side.
- Drink several glasses of water.
- Feel your abdomen to see if you can feel your uterus contract (harden).
- If your symptoms get worse or do not go away within an hour, seek assistance immediately.
- If your symptoms go away, but return, seek assistance.
- Tell your doctor or midwife about the symptoms at the next visit, even if your symptoms go away when you lie down and do not return.
What You Can Do
For planned pregnancies, preconception counseling and preparation should include good nutrition and stopping the use of tobacco, illicit drugs, and alcohol. You should choose an interval of at least 18 to 23 months between a prior and succeeding birth. Assessment and referral for issues such as domestic violence and abuse are also important. All of these may lessen the risk of preterm delivery.
Preterm labor is scary, but in most cases the chances of having a healthy baby are good. Remember, lowering the risks is the key to improving your chances of a term pregnancy.