Premature labor, also known as preterm labor, is when a baby is born before 37 weeks of gestation. An estimated 15 million babies are born prematurely every year. Many babies that are born prematurely may face health problems such as low birth weight, breathing issues, visual and hearing problems, and learning disabilities.
Premature labor can occur for many reasons. In many cases, the cause for preterm labor is unknown. In other instances, preterm labor can be caused by things such as infections, an incompetent or weak cervix, carrying twins or multiples, problems with the baby’s growth and development, or problems with the placenta.
While some of these factors may contribute to early labor, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a woman with these factors will definitely go into labor prematurely. And if a woman does go into premature labor, there are ways to delay an early delivery. The doctor may suggest bed rest or even recommend drugs to stall labor. A woman with an incompetent cervix may require a cervical cerclage, which basically stitches the cervix closed until it needs to dilate for delivery.
Symptoms of premature labor are:
- Contractions (which may feel more like a backache or cramps)
- Any leaking of fluid
Because the signs of labor can sometimes be hard to identify, women are sometimes advised to just take it easy, drink some water, and rest if they are feeling crampy but aren’t bleeding or leaking any fluid. Of course, if the aches and pains seem to continue, It’s definitely a good idea to call the doctor!
15 Bad Habits
Not only do risky behaviors like smoking, drinking, and drugs increase a woman’s risk of premature labor, they can also increase the risk of the baby being born with a low birth weight or even miscarriage. Chemicals and toxins in these harmful substances cross the placenta and prevent the baby from getting oxygen and nutrients that are vital for growth and development.
If you’re trying to conceive, the best thing is to ditch all the bad habits before you even get pregnant. However, try not to worry if you had a night out where you had a few drinks before you knew you were pregnant; it likely won’t harm your baby. But once you confirm your pregnancy, now is the time to avoid alcohol completely. Now is also the time to quit smoking if you haven’t already done so. It might be easier said than done, but really, what more motivation do you need?
14 Weight Issues
The average woman should put on somewhere from 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy. If you gain too much weight, you raise the odds of having to deal with complications like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia – both of which increase the risk of preterm labor. Women who are overweight also have to worry about an increased miscarriage risk. If you were overweight before pregnancy, it’s usually recommended that you gain less weight and follow a nutritious diet to lower your risk of these conditions.
Women who are underweight aren’t free from risk, either. Some research has shown that women who have a BMI under 20 (the healthy BMI range is between 20 and 25) are less likely to go full-term with their pregnancies and may end up delivering early. Women who are underweight may also have to worry about nutritional deficits that could adversely affect the growth and development of the baby.
13 Not Eating Right
You’re probably already very well aware that it’s important to eat right and exercise during pregnancy. A nutritious diet is vital to the baby’s growth and development. It’s also thought that a well-rounded diet can lower the risk of preterm labor. While researchers haven’t come to the conclusion on any specific dietary recommendations, it’s thought that the following nutrients are important to include in your diet during pregnancy because they increase the chances of having a healthy baby while decreasing the risk of premature labor.
Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish such as salmon) are essential to fetal brain development.
Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects.
Calcium and vitamin C are thought to help prevent preterm labor. Healthy sources of calcium, like skim milk and yogurt, can help build strong baby bones.
Vitamin C found in citrus fruits and juices, helps your body produce your baby’s connective tissue.
In addition to eating right, you should talk to your doctor about exercise. It can reduce the risk of gestational diabetes and may even prevent preeclampsia, conditions that are both linked to preterm labor.
12 Lack Of Prenatal Care
One of the easiest ways to reduce your risk of premature labor is to see your doctor as soon as you find out that you’re pregnant. Even better, make an appointment to see your physician before you even start trying to conceive. Your doctor can give you advice on how to take care of yourself before and during your pregnancy – whether it’s screening you for infections, discussing your lifestyle and health history, or prescribing a prenatal vitamin.
Those prenatal vitamins are important. Be sure to take one that includes folic acid, a vitamin that can prevent neural-tube birth defects like spina bifida, as well as lowering the risk of placental abruption and preeclampsia, two conditions that can contribute to an increased risk of premature labor and delivery. It’s crucial to take folic acid during the first month of pregnancy, so when you decide it’s time to try for a baby, start taking your vitamins!
11 STDs And Infections
It’s well known that sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea and chlamydia can increase the risk of premature delivery. Doctors are now concerned that women who have infections such as bacterial vaginosis (which causes an unpleasant-smelling, gray discharge) may also raise the risk of early labor. Studies have shown that treating women who have bacterial vaginosis symptoms with antibiotics can reduce their risk of early delivery; however, bacterial vaginosis doesn’t always cause symptoms and can be hard to diagnose.
Other risky conditions that may cause preterm birth are untreated urinary tract infections and the STD trichomoniasis. It is thought that when left untreated, these infections cause inflammation which then releases prostaglandins – the same hormone that stimulates labor when it’s time to give birth. Because the symptoms of some infections vary, it’s important to discuss them with your doctor and share your concerns. Getting screened and treated for these conditions during pregnancy can greatly reduce the risk of preterm labor.
10 Not Taking Care Of Your Teeth
In addition to infections of the genital area and urinary tract, pregnant women also have to worry about periodontal disease, or infections of the gums, which have been linked to premature labor. Doctors think that the bacteria that causes inflammation in the gums can travel into a pregnant woman’s bloodstream, reach the baby, and cause early labor. Another theory is that the bacteria can trigger the immune system to produce inflammation in the cervix and uterus, thus initiating premature labor.
It doesn’t help that all of the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy can contribute to gingivitis. Symptoms of gingivitis include swollen, sensitive, red gums that, if left untreated, can lead to gum disease. Be sure to visit the dentist before trying to conceive, and don’t think that you should skip your next appointment when you’re pregnant. A deep cleaning, as well as good dental hygiene, can dramatically reduce the risk of premature labor.
9 Uncontrolled Illnesses
Along with proper prenatal care, monitoring and treating pregnancy conditions such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia can help protect you and your baby from further complications.
In addition to being concerned with premature labor and/or birth, a woman with gestational diabetes is also at a greater risk of having a large baby who weighs more than 9 pounds. Having a large baby makes it more likely for your baby to get hurt during labor and delivery. With a large baby, it is more likely that you may need a c-section.
Gestational diabetes can also lead to preeclampsia, or high blood pressure. Preeclampsia comes with its own list of risks and complications. Along with premature labor and/or birth, the risk of placental abruption is greater. With placental abruption, the placenta separates from the uterus before birth, cutting off the baby’s access to oxygen and nutrients. Even with treatment, a woman with preeclampsia may need to give birth early to avoid serious health problems for both herself and her baby.
It is possible that women who suffer from depression or anxiety during pregnancy could also suffer from preterm labor or birth. Studies have shown that there could be a biological link between depression and preterm labor.
Women who take antidepressants during pregnancy also have a higher risk of preterm birth. A recent study suggests that a certain class of antidepressants used to treat depression and anxiety symptoms known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be associated with a slightly higher risk of premature labor and delivery. Another type of drugs, tricyclic antidepressants, don’t seem to increase the risk of premature delivery. If you’re on antidepressants and are pregnant or trying to conceive, you should talk to your doctor to see if there are any alternatives for you; however, sometimes the benefits of treating a condition outweigh any risks and it may be better for you to stay on your prescribed medication.
7 Stressing Out
Feeling stressed is common during pregnancy, but too much stress can make you cause you to have difficulty sleeping, give you headaches, or cause you to lose your appetite or overeat. High levels of stress that continue for a long time during pregnancy may increase the chances of having a low-birth weight baby or a baby that is born prematurely.
Regular stressors, like work deadlines, to-do lists, or having a bad day, aren’t likely to cause any problems with your pregnancy. However, take care of yourself and talk with your doctor if you experience any of the following:
- Negative life events like divorce, death in the family, coping or helping someone cope with a serious illness, losing a job, losing your home.
- Long-lasting stress such as financial problems, being abused, serious health problems, or depression.
- Pregnancy related stress where you’re concerned about miscarriage, the baby’s health, or how you’ll handle labor and becoming a parent.
6 Working Too Hard
Going to work doesn’t necessarily increase the risk of pregnancy complications, but work that is stressful, whether it’s physically or psychologically stressful, can have negative effects on pregnancy. Work that is stressful increases the risks of preterm labor as well as the risks of miscarriage, low birth weight, and preeclampsia. The greater the stress, the greater the risks of complications.
Working long hours isn’t thought to harm a pregnancy, but physically taxing work conditions, like a job that requires a lot of time on your feet and heavy lifting, may increase woman’s risk of having complications with pregnancy. Some of the complications may include high blood pressure, low birth weight, and premature labor.
Women with high-stress or physically demanding jobs should be monitored closely during pregnancy, and if any signs of complications develop, then work stress should be decreased or eliminated. In addition, some jobs may expose employees to chemicals, solvents, metals, and pesticides that may be harmful during pregnancy; if this is the case, it is best to talk to your employer to make temporary arrangements for the duration of your pregnancy.
5 Getting Pregnant Again Too Soon
If you end up getting pregnant quickly after giving birth, you increase the risk of preterm birth with this pregnancy. The longer you wait to get pregnant again, the less you’re at risk. A recent study has found that it’s best to wait at least 18 months after giving birth to get pregnant again.
Pregnancies that are spaced too closely together might not give a mother enough time to fully recover from one pregnancy before moving on to the next one. Both pregnancy and breastfeeding can sap your body of nutrients, and if you become pregnant again before replenishing your body’s supply of those nutrients, it could have adverse effects on your health and the baby’s health.
However, older couples who are trying to conceive may be concerned about declining fertility. Getting pregnant may be difficult, and some couples may feel as though time is running out. It’s important to consider the risk of preterm delivery when considering trying to conceive again right away.
Amniocentesis is a prenatal test in which a small amount of amniotic fluid is removed from the sac surrounding the baby. The fluid is extracted through a fine needle inserted into the uterus through the abdominal wall and is then sent to a lab for analysis. Different tests can be performed on amniotic fluid and can detect conditions such as Down syndrome, sickle cell disease, and cystic fibrosis. Amniocentesis can also detect certain neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
While amniocentesis is usually done early in the pregnancy, it can also be done during the third trimester to check the amniotic fluid for infection or to see if the baby’s lungs are mature enough for delivery.
There is a very small risk that amniocentesis could cause a miscarriage. Injury to the baby during the procedure, infection, and preterm labor are also possible complications, but occur very rarely.
3 Domestic Violence
A recent study has shown that women who experience physical abuse at the hands of a domestic partner are at an increased risk of premature labor and/or premature birth. According to the study, domestic violence committed by a partner or ex-partner during a woman’s pregnancy can double the risk of premature birth and low birth weight. Researchers also believe that sexual, psychological, emotional, and financial abuse may also increase the risk of a baby being small for his or her gestational age.
Researchers at the University of Iowa conducted a meta-analysis of 50 studies which covered more than 5 million children from 17 different countries, concluding that domestic violence can affect the baby’s growth and development through physical or sexual trauma, as well as through increased maternal stress, inadequate nutrition, and poor prenatal care. Abuse can also lead to alcohol or drug use, which carries further risks for the health of the baby.
2 Going Through IVF
Babies conceived through IVF have a higher chance of being born prematurely than babies conceived naturally or through other fertility treatments. Twins conceived through IVF are also more likely to be born early than twins that are conceived naturally. Doctors aren’t exactly sure why IVF babies are born earlier than other babies.
Research is being done, but so far, studies suggest that the hormones given to a woman may affect the way the embryo or embryos implant in the uterus. Because two or more embryos are often implanted during IVF, there is a greater chance of having multiple births. Multiples tend to be born early, as well.
Because IVF pregnancies are monitored so closely, it is more likely that the doctor may suggest delivering the baby early due to complications that might not be as big of a concern in other pregnancies.
It is also thought that factors that cause infertility, thus requiring IVF for pregnancy, may also play a role in premature labor. Moms who conceive through IVF may be older than moms who conceive naturally, and age can also be a factor in premature labor
According to a large study from Finland, women who have had several abortions are more likely to have a premature baby, or a baby with low birth weight, when they do give birth. The study looks at the consequences of abortion and found that the procedure does seem to pose a slightly increased risk of premature labor, but only for women having their first child who had undergone three or more abortions.
It is thought that surgical methods of abortion may cause damage to the cervix, which may endanger future pregnancies. Abortions that require the use of medications may take longer to complete, but may be safer than the alternative.
Studies have also found that first-time mothers who had previously undergone abortions were more often single smokers from a lower socioeconomic position, who had had miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies before their first birth. These are all additional factors that can also contribute to an increased risk of premature labor.