A normal pregnancy is nine months or 40 weeks long. However, one every 10 births occurs before week 37. Those three weeks of missing time in the safe environment of the womb can make a big difference. Premature babies are also called preemies.
Once a woman begins labor it can sometimes but not always be stopped with medication. There are many causes of premature births, including injuries to the mother, severe illness, more than one baby fighting for room in the womb, a womb infection, gestational diabetes, complications from long-term use of drugs or alcohol and the most common cause – spontaneous preterm labor, where the cause is completely unknown. Women who have one premature birth are more likely to experience the same problem again.
The most common symptoms of an eminent premature birth are contractions in the abdomen at least once every 10 minutes, dull ache in the lower back, sudden increase in vaginal fluids which may include blood, and strong cramps similar to menstrual cramps. An uncommon symptom is diarrhea which is usually accompanied by cramps.
The cause of premature birth is only known about 50 percent of the time. When the cause is known, it can be due to untreated infections, placental abruption (placenta separates from the uterus during pregnancy), hormonal changes, and an incompetent cervix (where the cervix opens before it’s supposed to).
Risk factors for premature birth include poor nutrition, lack of proper weight gain during pregnancy, conceiving through in vitro fertilization, having a pregnancy of multiples (twins, triplets, etc.), or having problems with the cervix, placenta or uterus. Other risk factors include smoking cigarettes, using drugs, stressful life events (like the death of a loved one), multiple abortions or miscarriages, and being pregnant more than once in six months. Your baby may also be at risk of premature birth if you’ve had a chronic condition like diabetes or high blood pressure, or if you’ve had some sort of physical trauma or injury.
Black women are also at a higher risk of premature birth than women of other races; however, anyone can have a premature birth.
The best treatment is prevention. This includes adding more vitamin D to the mother’s diet, no smoking, no exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke, no drinking, regular check-ups during the pregnancy and eating a healthy diet.
However even the best of plans can go awry. As soon as the mother feels as if labor has begun, call an ambulance or go to the hospital. Sometimes what feels like beginning labor pains are not actually labor pains but may just be Braxton-Hicks contractions.
In the case of real labor, sometimes this can be stopped or delayed with tocoylitic medications. Medications are also given to the fetus in case it has to come out soon.
The chances of the preemie’s survival are high as long as the mother gives birth in a hospital. The baby is often placed in an incubator, which serves as a warm artificial womb until the baby is healthy enough to go home. Preemies are often given medications and sometimes IV fluids or IV medications, depending on that particular baby’s unique medical problems.
You can prevent premature birth by avoiding heavy lifting or standing for long periods of time. Minimizing the stress in your life is highly recommended. A stressed out mother-to-be is prone to all kinds of complications, including premature labor and birth. If you have been smoking at all during your pregnancy, quit immediately. Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages or using recreational drugs like marijuana.
Women with an increased risk of preterm birth can take progesterone supplements or have a surgical procedure that helps prevent premature birth. In order to be eligible for the surgery, however, you must be pregnant with only one baby and have a history of premature birth. If you have a short cervix, you would also qualify for this surgery.
You can also take calcium supplements (1000 mg), reduce your exposure to chemicals, take a low dose of aspirin every day (60 to 80 mg), or get a cervical pessary. Eating a healthy diet before and during pregnancy is also recommended.