Almost every other pregnant woman out there would have a fear of delivering her baby prematurely. Premature pregnancies are common in about 15% of pregnancies and may occur due to several reasons. A premature pregnancy would signify the birth of a baby at least three weeks before its original due date (i.e. before 37 weeks as opposed to a normal pregnancy that lasts around 40 weeks).
A prematurely born baby is more at risk of developing health related complications. This is because the baby would not have developed to its full potential inside the womb at the time of a premature delivery and so would be more vulnerable to external elements and conditions.
A premature pregnancy can be termed as late preterm if the delivery occurs between week 34 and 37 of the pregnancy, very preterm if the delivery occurs before week 32 of the pregnancy, and extremely preterm if the delivery happens before week 25 of the pregnancy. Even though most premature births tend to occur only as late preterm ones, in rare cases, a woman can also delivery a ‘very preterm’ or an ‘extremely preterm’ baby.
Complications Arising from Premature Pregnancies
Premature pregnancies can have a series of side effects and health related complications on the baby. A preterm baby has high chances of contracting conditions like low weight, respiratory issues, digestive system related problems, neurological complications and development delay etc.
The risks increase with the decrease in pregnancy term. In many cases, babies born before 24 weeks would either not survive or would suffer from health related complications for life. Babies born before 32 weeks (late preterm) have high chances of survival but cannot be ruled out from developing complications later on. Most of these complications would be temporary though in the case of a late preterm delivery.
Risk Factors that Could Lead to a Premature Pregnancy
There is no definite cause for a premature pregnancy and a woman may or may not experience premature labor. Certain women however have high chances of experiencing premature labor owing to certain risk factors.
Some of these include multiple pregnancy (twins, triplets etc.), existing cervical or uterine abnormalities, a previous history of premature pregnancy, infections pertaining to the bladder, kidney, vagina and UTI; excessive vaginal bleeding (after 20 weeks), STDs, fever with infection, a previous history of miscarriages, diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney diseases, thrombophilia, IVF pregnancies and small gap between consecutive pregnancies (i.e. getting pregnant within 7 months of a previous delivery) etc.
A woman would also experience a premature pregnancy owing to certain habits like smoking, drinking alcohol, drug abuse, high stress levels, erratic work hours, ignoring of prenatal care, and physical/emotional trauma etc.
Warning Signs of a Premature Pregnancy
Although the exact reason for a premature pregnancy is hard to find, the condition would be easy to diagnose with a few symptoms that need to be taken as warning signs. Here are some of the more common signs of a premature pregnancy that every woman would need to know about in order to prevent the same.
Throughout the pregnancy, the uterine walls would contract progressively to accommodate the growing fetus. These contractions are called Braxton Hicks contractions and are usually mild, harmless and infrequent.
If the contractions become too frequent though and start occurring every 12 minutes (continuously for more than an hour), it could indicate a premature pregnancy as frequent contractions can cause the cervix to open up for delivery.
Leakage of Vaginal Fluid
Sudden leakage of a sticky fluid from the vagina could indicate a premature pregnancy. The leakage of fluid would usually indicate that the water bag has broken. And this is usually considered as a vital symptom of pregnancy labor.
Increase in Pelvic Pressure
The pelvic area would normally experience mild pressure during pregnancy owing to the weight of the fetus. However, if the pressure increases followed by the feeling of the baby pushing downwards, chances are the woman in question may experience a premature pregnancy.
Premature pregnancies often cause abdominal cramps in individuals. These cramps may resemble normal menstrual cramps and can be very painful in certain cases. If the cramps are accompanied by a reddish brown vaginal discharge and are followed by other symptoms like diarrhea, the chances of a premature pregnancy are high.
Handling a Premature Pregnancy
There are certain tips one could follow in order to prevent or handle premature pregnancies. A premature labor can also be handled properly by following a few simple steps given below.
Dehydration can cause premature uterine contractions. Drinking plenty of water and fluids would keep the body (including the cervix) hydrated, thereby preventing premature contractions in a pregnancy.
Emptying the Bladder
A full bladder could also increase pelvic pressure that can be misinterpreted as a sign of premature labor. It is considered wise to empty the bladder at regular intervals to keep the pelvic region relaxed. Emptying the bladder as soon as the contractions start would also relax the pelvic muscles and buy the individual some time before the doctor arrives.
Lying Down Sideways
Lying down flat on the back can increase the frequency and severity of the contractions. Lying down sideways can relax the pelvic muscles and reduce the contractions if not stop them completely (in case of a false alarm).
Enjoying Bed Rest
In certain cases, a woman who is at risk of delivering prematurely is asked to take bed rest during the last few weeks of her pregnancy. The woman would be asked to remain in bed until the pregnancy progresses in order to avoid complications later on.
Monitoring the frequency and intensity of the contractions can help identify a potential premature pregnancy. If the contractions are frequent and do not stop/reduce even after an hour, the chances of a premature pregnancy are high.
Calling a Doctor
It is considered wise to call a doctor as soon as the woman in question starts experiencing the signs of a premature pregnancy. The doctor would be able to positively diagnose the condition by examining the cervix. A dilated cervix would indicate premature labor.
Medications and Treatments for Premature Pregnancies
In certain cases, a woman may be prescribed certain medications or treatments to stop or curb premature contractions and handle complications in the newborn if any. For instance, Corticosteroid is a medication that is administered at least 24 hours before premature labor in order to protect and accelerate development of the baby’s vital organs, including the lungs and brains.
Magnesium Sulfate is administered intravenously to curb premature contractions. The medication is administered in decreasing doses every 12 hours or so and can cause side effects like nausea or dizziness.
Most hospitals would come equipped with neonatal intensive care units (NICU) to handle babies born prematurely. In case a particular hospital does not have a neonatal intensive care unit, the woman in question would be shifted to another hospital that has the facility for best results.