A normal pregnancy is said to last 40 weeks, and many women even push past the 40 week mark and are considered overdue. While it can be uncomfortable to carry a child into the latter weeks of pregnancy, it’s a gift to be able to do so. Babies need to bake in the womb so their lungs, brains, and immune systems can develop, and when they come out too early it can cause serious problems.
Preterm labor is when mom’s body starts the process for evicting the baby too early, at least three weeks before the due date. Though preterm labor does not always lead to an early birth of the child, it can, and when it does the risks to the child can be significant depending on how many weeks early he was born.
The warning signs of premature labor can be very vague, such as back aches and cramping. However, contractions and bleeding can also be signs, and none of these should be ignored. It’s better for mom to call her doctor and ask questions than it is for her to let preterm labor go too far.
Due to neonatal intensive care units, children who are born too early have a fighting chance, but it’s not an easy journey. Endings aren’t always happy in these cases, and even when a child survives, premature birth can cause problems that a child struggles with for many years and sometimes all of their lives.
There are certain events or situations that put moms more at risk for preterm labor, so it’s important that she knows what they are and avoids the ones she can.
15 In Vitro Fertilization
In vitro fertilization(IVF) is a fertility treatment where sperm and egg are put together in a lab dish before being placed in mom’s uterus. This option is usually tried after a couple has failed to conceive naturally and there is no alternative treatment.
IVF has helped many couples have children, but it does come with risks. Even when it is successful and mom becomes pregnant, moms who conceive using IVF are more likely to experience preterm labor.
One issue is that many moms who receive IVF have multiples. Carrying more than one child is already a risk factor for preterm labor, and if mom conceives twins using IVF, they are over 20% more likely to be born early. Singletons conceived by IVF are twice as likely to be born early.
Researchers aren’t sure why moms who undergo IVF are more likely to experience preterm labor, but they have some ideas. Moms receive major doses of hormones when experiencing IVF, and some believe this may affect how the baby implants in the womb. Women who need IVF are also usually older and may not be as healthy, also risks for preterm labor.
14 Being Stressed Out
Every woman is going to feel stressed when pregnant. There is the physical stress of carrying a child and all the weight gain and discomfort that comes with it. There’s also the emotional stress as mom’s hormones rage and she sometimes feels like her brain has turned into a bowl of jelly.
Neither of these types of stress will cause preterm labor, though mom should try to keep her stress under control for her and her baby’s overall health.
The kind of stress that can cause preterm labor is the kind that falls into the traumatic events category. A mom who experiences the death of a loved one or some other major detrimental life event is at an increased risk for preterm labor.
This kind of stress can cause hormones that cause labor to be released, and mom may find that on top of trying to deal with a traumatic event she is also trying to keep her child from coming too early.
If something happens during pregnancy and mom is having a hard time, she needs to talk to her doctor and seek help before she shows signs of preterm labor. Having a child arrive too early and unprepared for the world will only add to the stress in her life.
13 Previous Abortions
Women with a history of abortion are more likely to experience premature labor, though the reasons why are not completely clear. Researchers theorize, and they’ve come up with a couple of possibilities.
During an abortion, a woman’s cervix may be damaged, and this can cause preterm labor. The cervix may also be incompetent due to abortions, so instead of staying closed and keeping the baby inside, it opens too early causing preterm labor. Surgery can sometimes solve this problem and correct the issue with the cervix.
Another theory is that women who seek abortions repeatedly may not have access to or money for medical care, so when they become pregnant and decide to keep the child, they don’t seek out prenatal care. A lack of prenatal care puts a woman at risk for preterm labor even if she has never had an abortion, so a history of abortions just adds to the risks.
12 Family History
If mom wants to talk to someone to assess her risk for preterm labor, she need look no further than her own mother. Family history, specifically mom’s history, can tell a woman a bit about her chances of going into labor early.
Moms who were born early themselves are at an increased risk to deliver their children early. Depending on how early mom was born, her risk of giving birth early could increase by around 14%, though it can be lower depending on the circumstances.
There’s no definitive reason for this situation. It could imply a genetic predisposition to deliver early or that a child may have picked up habits from her own mother that put at her at risk for premature birth. Since fraternal twins also run in the family, a woman may be more likely to become pregnant with twins if they run in her family, and that can lead to preterm labor. Whatever the reason, if mom knows she was born early, it’s important for her to realize this can affect her pregnancy.
11 Gum Infections
Oral hygiene is generally not the first thing that mom thinks about when she becomes pregnant, but it turns out problems with gums may cause mom to go into labor early.
When mom is pregnant, her hormones leave her wide open for gum disease. Many moms notice their gums bleed more, and even women who have never experienced oral health issues suffer at the hands of increased hormones coursing through the body.
There are two theories for why this affects labor. Both have to do with inflammation and bacteria. One thought is that the gums are inflamed from bacteria, and this bacteria can travel. When it reaches the baby, labor starts.
The other is that the same bacteria causing wicked inflammation in mom’s mouth is causing her immune system to respond with more inflammation. If the inflammation occurs in mom’s cervix or uterus, her body starts the labor process.
Whatever the reason, mom needs to take care of her gums during pregnancy and call her doctor if she has concerns.
10 Getting Chunkier
One of the best choices mom can make before she conceives is to take care of her health. That includes getting her weight in check, not so she can sport a bikini or brag about washboard abs but because women who are overweight or obese face a 30% higher chance of delivering a child preterm.
In fact, women who are obese may deliver their children prior to the 32 week mark, and that is bad news. Thirty two weeks is considered a pregnancy milestone, and babies who make it that long have a much better chance of survival and less complications.
Babies who don’t can plan on spending much more time in the NICU. They may also face complications that affect their future.
The reason for this is that obese and overweight moms are more likely to suffer from conditions like preeclampsia and diabetes, two known issues that cause early labor. Some overweight moms have to be induced before the 37 week mark because these conditions make it impossible for the pregnancy to go on any longer.
9 Bleeding During Pregnancy
Spotting while pregnant is not unheard of and is not always a sign of something being wrong, though moms should always call their doctors when it happens. However, bleeding between weeks 12 and 24 leave mom at a higher risk for preterm labor.
The cause of the bleeding is the key to understanding if it will lead to preterm labor. Problems with the placenta, which can cause bleeding during the weeks specified, are very closely connected to preterm labor. If these are determined to be the issue, mom will need to work with her doctor to prepare.
Placenta previa occurs when the placenta covers the cervix, either just a bit or completely. This can cause issues with labor and delivery.
Placental abruption is when the placenta, which is supposed to stay in place to provide nutrients to the baby until the baby is delivered, detaches from the uterine wall too early. This will cause bleeding and preterm labor.
8 Carrying Multiples
It’s no surprise that when there is more than one child in the womb the chances of early evacuation increase. The reasons for this are many, and they range from a placenta that is supporting two or more children and deteriorating too quickly to other internal factors.
Identical twins share a placenta, and not only does it provide food and nutrients but it’s required to do it equitably so there are no problems for either child. When twins suffer from twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, extra blood vessels in the placenta don’t share the blood equally, and this can mean disaster or death for both babies.
If TTTS is detected, doctors will attempt to treat it, but if the pregnancy is far enough along that the children might survive with help in a neonatal intensive care unit, they may be taken early. Though there are risks with this, untreated TTTS can be fatal.
Besides situations where the babies have to be taken, preterm labor can occur with twins just due to the hormone changes and the bodies inability to support more than one child throughout the pregnancy. The more children a mom is carrying the more likely she is to deliver early, so women carrying triplets or quadruplets can pretty much plan for preterm labor.
7 Previous Premature Birth
Women who have already gone through the experience of a premature birth are more likely to experience it again. I know, completely unfair, but it’s entirely possible.
It’s not a guarantee that mom will have to relive preterm labor, but due to certain factors, mom should be on the lookout for the signs. In fact, mom may even want to ask her OB to refer her to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, a high-risk doctor that helps women who may be at risk for preterm labor.
If certain conditions that affected mom’s ability to carry a child to term the first time are still present, she may have the same fate with the second child. Diabetes, weight, and thyroid diseases are all contributing factors when it comes to preterm labor, and if these conditions still exist, mom’s body may try to evict the little one early again.
There’s no way to know for sure if preterm labor will strike again, but mom should be cautious since a previous preterm labor does increase the chances for another one.
6 Preterm Premature Rupture Of The Membranes
This PPROM, preterm premature rupture of the membranes, is not the kind mom wants to go to. It’s an almost sure sign the baby is about to arrive early, and there is not much that can be done about it.
PPROM occurs when the amniotic sac holding the baby ruptures. While women anxiously await for their water to break because they see it as a true sign the baby is coming, when it happens before 37 weeks, it’s a problematic event.
Once the membranes rupture, labor usually starts. In the cases where it doesn’t, doctors have to look out for prolapsed cords and infections and keep mom on bedrest while giving her steroid shots to pump up her baby’s lungs. It’s a tedious process that requires constant monitoring, and early delivery usually can’t be avoided.
PPROM occurs in less than three percent of pregnancies, so mom shouldn't stress about it. However, if mom feels the tell-tale sign of fluids gushing before it’s time, she needs to get to her doctor.
5 Getting Pregnant Again Too Soon
Many moms hope their children will be close in age and plan to have them close together to ensure they will. Others accidentally become pregnant very soon after the last child is delivered. Whatever the situation, becoming pregnant again too soon after a child was born increases the risk for preterm labor.
The ideal situation seems to be to make it past the 18-month mark before trying to conceive again. Women who are able to do this cut their risk of preterm labor substantially. Women who get pregnant again within the first year after having a child are 20% more likely to deliver preterm, whether the first child was early or not.
This may be due to the placenta not being in the right place, or it could just be that the body isn’t quite ready for another pregnancy, but early evacuation is more likely if mom doesn’t give her body some time to recover from the last birth.
4 Thyroid Problems
The thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that controls many different functions in the body, can go haywire during pregnancy. Sometimes moms come into pregnancy with a thyroid condition that is under control only to have it go crazy once her hormones start shifting.
If a woman knows she has a thyroid disease going into pregnancy, she needs to let her doctor know so he can monitor it throughout. As long as thyroid conditions are controlled, they are usually not as much of a problem. For women who don’t know they have a thyroid disorder, things can be more complicated.
A massive study confirmed what researchers already suspected: thyroid disorders can majorly affect pregnancy. They cause preeclampsia, put women at higher risk for a C-section, and cause preterm labor. They also increase a mother’s chance of gestational diabetes, another risk factor for preterm labor.
Women with thyroid issues are sometimes considered high-risk patients, and they probably should be. They absolutely need to be watched closely to make sure their little one has the best chance possible of making it to the due date.
3 Lack Of Prenatal Care
Because of issues that can arise during pregnancy, good prenatal care is essential for mom and baby. Whether it is with a midwife or an OB, mom should make sure she sees her practitioner regularly to avoid situations that lead to preterm labor. Women who receive little to no prenatal care are at an increased risk of early labor.
Why does prenatal care matter? Good prenatal care can help mom detect issues, such as anemia, diabetes, or too much amniotic fluid. All of these problems lead to preterm labor, but there are ways to control many of them, helping mom reduce her chances of delivering early.
If mom is not receiving adequate prenatal care, she may not know until it’s too late that her thyroid is malfunctioning. She may miss out on the opportunity to take an iron supplement in early pregnancy because she doesn’t know she’s anemic.
Mom needs help along the way to detect any problems that may lead her to deliver early so she can stop that from happening if possible.
2 Having Anemia
It’s normal for women to experience mild anemia when pregnant. Many moms do, and they will have the pleasure of taking a supplement that fixes the anemia but causes constipation. Welcome to pregnancy!
However, some women experience severe anemia, and this condition can lead to preterm labor. When women have anemia, they are lacking enough red blood cells in the blood. Without the right amount of red blood cells, oxygen can’t be carried to tissues in the body or to mom’s growing baby.
There are different types of anemia and all can be problematic when it comes to preterm labor. However, the kind that affects B12 production, called vitamin B12 deficiency, adds an extra risk of preterm labor. A body lacking B12 can’t make those red blood cells we discussed earlier.
This can not only lead to preterm labor but also to birth defects and neural tube problems. Mom should make sure she gets enough foods with B12, like meat, dairy, and eggs, and she should talk to her doctor about supplements if she has B12 deficiency or any form of anemia.
1 Too Much Amniotic Fluid
When a mother has too much amniotic fluid, she has a condition called polyhydramnios. When mom’s uterus swells to accommodate this excess fluid, it may eventually start contracting and cause mom to go into labor. While this condition can cause preterm labor, the reason for the condition gives a better clue about if it will.
To remove excess fluid, a needle is put through mom’s stomach into her amniotic fluid so the extra can be taken out. While the needle is in there, some doctors will choose to go ahead and take tissue samples to see what went wrong and caused this condition.
Causes can range from the mother having diabetes to problems with the placenta. Another cause is the baby having a birth defect. Why is it important to know what caused the polyhydramnios? Because certain causes mean mom is more likely to go into preterm labor.
For instance, if a baby is found to have a birth defect and that is the cause of the excess amniotic fluid, then mom is more likely to go into labor early.