Nurse handing a newborn to a mom,


What You Should Know If You Have Preterm Labor and a Premature Birth

Pregnancy usually lasts around 40 weeks. This is the length of time your baby needs before they’re able to survive on their own outside of the womb. Your due date is an estimation of this timeline based on conception and is used as a rough calculation to anticipate when you’ll go into labor. Preterm labor is the medical term for labor that begins before the 37th week of pregnancy. Here, we’ll cover everything you should know about preterm labor and premature birth.


Important Information About Premature Birth

Babies that are born prior to 37 weeks of development are considered premature and, depending on how early they are, will need life-saving measures after delivery. Premature babies have a greater risk of developing serious health conditions later in life. Some of these include blindness and deafness, behavioral problems, chronic conditions, cerebral palsy, and more. The longer a baby stays in the womb (up to 40 weeks), the less likely these health concerns are to occur.


Common Signs and Symptoms of Preterm Labor

Catching early signs and symptoms of preterm labor can help you take action and increase the chance of your baby making it to term. However, they can be confused with typical pregnancy symptoms, so it’s important to be aware and diligent about anything that seems off. Contact your doctor as soon as possible if you notice any of the following:

  • Low, dull backache that doesn’t go away
  • Cramping with or without diarrhea
  • Pressure in the pelvis or lower abdominal region
  • Changes in your vaginal discharge
  • Higher rates of vaginal discharge than usual
  • Vaginal spotting or light bleeding
  • Regular or frequent contractions
  • If your water breaks


    While backaches or cramping may seem like a normal part of pregnancy, it’s important to see your doctor to be sure. In certain situations, preterm labor can be delayed, which may help increase the amount of time your baby continues their development in the womb.

    Order Your Insurance Covered Breast Pump


    Preterm Labor and Premature Birth Risk Factors

    About one out of every 10 babies are born premature each year throughout the United States. Unfortunately, the direct cause of this is still unknown. Labor can be unpredictable, even if you have the healthiest pregnancy in the world. However, there are a few things that may increase the risk of preterm labor and premature birth. These risk factors are not a guarantee that you’ll experience preterm labor, but they can help you keep a more watchful eye for any signs or symptoms that may occur.

    Some of the most common risk factors for preterm labor and premature birth include the following:


  • Pregnant with multiples (twins, triplets, etc.)
  • Past uterine problems
  • Shortened cervix
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Eating disorders before pregnancy
  • Underweight before pregnancy
  • Overweight before pregnancy
  • Family history of premature births
  • Getting pregnant within 12 months of previous delivery
  • Connective tissue disorders
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Preeclampsia
  • Active sexually transmitted infections
  • Other infections of the uterus, vagina, and/or urinary tract
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Stressful life events
  • Presence of fetal birth defect
  • Age of mother (either too young or too old)
  • Thrombophilia
  • Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP)
  • Lack of prenatal care
  • Premature ruptures of the membranes (PPROM)
  • In vitro fertilization (IVF)
  • Lower socioeconomic status
  • Domestic violence
  • Overworking
  • Exposure to certain environmental factors


While the risk factors can seem overwhelming, they’re important to understand. This increases your chances of recognizing signs or symptoms as preterm labor and helps you take extra preventative care.


How to Reduce Your Risk of Preterm Labor

There are a few ways that you can reduce your risk of preterm labor, but some risk factors can’t be changed. One of the best things to do is try to remain calm and manage your stress. Other ways you can reduce your risk of preterm labor and premature birth are as follows:

Prenatal Care

Starting prenatal care as soon as you find out you're pregnant will help you reduce your risks for preterm labor and other pregnancy-related complications. This is one reason that planning before conception is so beneficial. If you think you may be pregnant, take a pregnancy test and schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.

Healthy Weight

Not only should you try to achieve a healthy weight before you conceive, but it’s also important to gain a healthy amount of weight during your pregnancy. While the recommended weight gain will vary depending on your height and muscle mass, most doctors recommend gaining between 25lbs and 35lbs. Always talk to your provider to determine what’s best for your body and pregnancy.

Healthy Diet

While it’s okay to give into pregnancy cravings every now and then, maintaining a healthy diet is a great way to ensure your baby has the nutrients and minerals they need for a healthy development in utero. Avoid mercury and make sure you’re getting enough folate in your diet or through a supplement.

Avoiding Toxic Substances

Smoking, drinking, and drug use should be avoided during pregnancy. It’s simply not worth the risk. All of these toxic substances can drastically harm your developing baby and contribute to preterm labor. Additionally, make sure you discuss any prescription medications you’re currently taking with your doctor, as some may be harmful for fetal development.

Pregnancy Spacing

Growing your family is exciting but getting pregnant too soon after your last delivery can increase your risk for various complications, including miscarriage and stillbirth. If you’re older than 35, pregnancy spacing may be recommended for longer periods of time. For those under 35, try to allow for 12 to 18 months between giving birth and getting pregnant again.

Manage or Treat Underlying Conditions

Any underlying conditions should be treated—if possible—or properly managed before pregnancy. This is especially true in regard to high blood pressure, depression, thyroid problems, infections, diabetes, and more. Since these medical conditions can impact your hormones and overall health, getting them under control before pregnancy can reduce the likelihood of complications, including preterm labor. To help reduce the effects of preventable infections, get vaccinated, wash your hands regularly, avoid consuming raw foods, and don’t clean the litterbox.

Reduce Stress Levels

Stress can take a huge toll on our bodies, especially during pregnancy. To help combat the negative effects of chronic anxiety, try to find a stress management system that works for you. This could be doing something active, getting outside, taking a warm (not hot) bath, listening to calming music, meditating, prenatal yoga, or more. If you’re having a hard time with stress management, talk to your doctor.


Diagnostics for Preterm Labor

If you’re experiencing any signs or symptoms of preterm labor, your doctor will likely perform a transvaginal ultrasound. This allows them to see if your cervix has begun preparing for the process of delivery. Transvaginal ultrasounds are performed in the vagina to take pictures of your baby and monitor their health. A pelvic exam is also commonly performed to check the firmness of your uterus and the baby’s positioning. There are further options for uterine monitoring with specialized devices and lab tests to check for infections or substances that can increase the risk of preterm labor.


Preterm Labor Treatment Options

By taking prompt action after experiencing any indication of preterm labor, you may elongate your baby’s gestation period. Treatment options can include medications or surgical procedures depending on your risk factors. Some of the most common medications used to help slow labor temporarily include corticosteroids, magnesium sulfate, and tocolytics.

It’s also important to get plenty of bed rest to avoid inducing labor, especially if your water hasn’t broken yet. There is an option for a procedure known as cervical cerclage, but this is only recommended for expecting mothers experiencing signs of preterm labor before 24 weeks or if your cervical length is less than 25 millimeters.

To help you prepare for motherhood, begin the process of acquiring all of your baby products early. In addition to clothes, bottles, and diapers, consider getting a breast pump to supplement feedings. Byram Healthcare carries a wide range of insurance covered breast pumps that are available to new and expecting moms with zero out of pocket costs. To learn more about your options and get started with the ordering process, check out our product selection guide today.