When a woman gets pregnant, one of the first things she marks on her calendar is her estimated due date. While very few women actually give birth on that day, it's usually a good approximation of when the baby will arrive. Moms begin to plan for the season and plan around major events like work or friends' weddings and how they might be impacted.
But for about six percent of pregnancies, the baby could come more than a month before that due date. A premature birth doesn't just interfere with carefully made plans; it also could have big implications for the baby's health. While doctors and nurses have found success in helping babies born as early as 24 weeks gestation, there are risks of developmental problems, vision and hearing issues, breathing conditions, and more.
There are times when a mom can't do anything to avoid a premature birth, but sometimes the doctor can help a mom stave off the delivery so that the baby has more time to develop and grow fully. It's important to understand the reasons and signs because every day and every week closer to full term means the baby will be healthier and stronger.
Here are 20 signs baby might arrive early.
There is a fraction of premature births that come without any signs or warnings. Sometimes the mom's water just breaks and doctors have no explanation why. With a spontaneous rupture of membranes, there is nothing that a doctor can do to repair the amniotic sac.
In full-term babies, once the water breaks, the possibility of infection means that doctors advise that the baby be born within 24 hours. That isn't true if it happens prematurely and every day counts. There is a possibility that the sac could seal again on its own, but that's rare. It's more likely that the baby will be delivered soon — even if it's early.
A mother's health has a lot to do with her baby's health, and that includes determining whether the baby will be born early. Doctors recommend that women try to be at a healthy BMI before getting pregnant for several reasons — and that includes avoiding prematurity.
The baby has the possibility of being born early if the mom is under or oversize before getting pregnant. Women do need to consider their starting point when figuring out how to be healthy with their food intake, but they need to know that the scale is a factor in the baby coming too early.
There's a possibility that premature birth could run in families, according to recent scientific studies. The study found that moms who were born prematurely themselves — or had siblings who were born early — were as much as 49 percent more likely to give birth early themselves.
Doctors haven't figured out the gene that might be a factor in premature birth, but they think that the study shows a likelihood that there is one out there. So far, though, they have decided not to list family history as a reason to consider a woman high-risk for early delivery, according to a Reuters news article about the 2010 study.
Moms-to-be might feel sick often when they are pregnant, especially in that first trimester when they go through morning sickness and later on when they have a stuffy nose for no other reason than swollen vessels. But if they actually get an infection, that can be a problem.
Having an infection early in pregnancy might lead to miscarriage, but later on, it might lead to premature birth. The infection doesn't have to be down below. In fact, any disease that causes inflammation, even gum disease, can cause a mom to go into labor. It's important that moms talk to their doctor if they get sick so they can try to avoid giving birth prematurely.
Hormones mean a lot during pregnancy. They can signal if a miscarriage is likely in the first few weeks of the pregnancy, and they might even reveal if the baby could be born prematurely. Doctors are working on tests that could reveal the possibility and even help stave off the event.
If a mom starts to go into labor, one possible treatment is for the doctor to give her progesterone supplements. That might stop contractions and allow for the mom to relax for a while, maybe even long enough for the baby to reach full term and the lungs to get ready for entering the world.
When the baby is in the womb, there is one thing that stands in the way for it coming into the world: the birth canal. That body part is small but very important to providing a plug that keeps the baby inside during pregnancy and acts as a tunnel during the big event.
If the mom's birth canal has issues, then that could lead to premature birth. Sometimes the doctor might pick up on a shortened cervix during the ultrasound, and that might mean that he recommends bed rest. Moms should be wary that it could mean that they end up having the baby early.
Stress is never a good thing when a woman is pregnant. Her body is already going through enough that any major issues can be hard on their physical and mental health, and that can also be an issue for the baby.
Moms don't need to worry about the normal amount of stress that comes with having a baby. But major life events such as natural disasters have been proven to cause women to go into labor early. Stress can beget stress, so doctors don't want women to worry too much, but it can be a factor in an early birth.
A woman's body goes through a lot during pregnancy, and it can take a long time to recover. Doctors recommend that women wait at least a year to get pregnant again so that her body can be in the best possible shape. But let's face it; things happen. Sometimes moms get pregnant again right away, and that can lead to premature birth.
The biggest risk comes when the mom gets pregnant less than six months after giving birth. Her pelvic region hasn't recovered and her cervix could cause some issues, and that might mean that the babies are even closer in age than the mom anticipated.
Pregnancy can mess with a mom's BP, especially since the amount in the body goes up so dramatically to make sure that the baby has all the circulation it needs. Some women start out with high BP and others might have issues during the pregnancy, but things change when the pressure spikes.
That can be really dangerous for the mom and the baby, so if the doctor isn't able to control the condition with meds, the only choice is to deliver the baby. That might mean that the little one comes early and has to do the rest of his developing in the NICU at the hospital.
Even if the pregnancy is going smoothly, something might happen that changes everything. The mom might get in a car accident or have a fall or something else that causes her to get hurt, and that might mean that the baby ends up coming early.
The biggest reason for a premature birth because of an accident is placental abruption. That means that the placenta starts to detach from the uterine wall, and with that condition, the baby could be deprived of fluids and oxygen. It's an emergency situation, and the baby is better off born premature and able to get the care he needs in the NICU.
The mother's health is one of the most important aspects of the baby's health during pregnancy. That's why it's so important for women to have healthy lifestyles. We're not just talking about eating and exercise, though — bad habits in the other things that go into the mom's body can also be hard for the baby.
The vices that women have been warned about for their own health can cause the baby to come early and be undersized. That means that the little one might be too weak to fight for his life in the NICU, and that's just so sad for the entire family.
The more babies on board, the greater the likelihood that a mom will give birth early. Even twin moms aren't likely to make it to 40 weeks — they are considered full term at 37 weeks, and the expectation changes to even fewer weeks for triplets and quadruplets.
Multiple pregnancies are complicated by nature. The mom is more likely to have a number of complications, including preeclampsia and placental dysfunction, and the babies are at risk as well. Many times the doctor has to make a call as to when it's safer to deliver the baby than to try to make it longer in the pregnancy.
A woman's body acts differently for each pregnancy, and the baby's situation can be different, too. But doctors warn moms who have had a premature baby that it is more likely to happen again the next time they get pregnant.
That's because issues like an incompetent cervix don't get fixed easily, and sometimes a genetic component would remain. On top of that, women, in general, have babies earlier and quicker the second and each subsequent time around, since their bodies are more primed for the process. It doesn't always happen, but a preemie sibling might foretell having a preemie again.
As much as they eat their vegetables, vegans aren't necessarily the healthiest people, and that can especially be true during pregnancy. The mom and the baby need to consume a lot of different vitamins and minerals, and sometimes vegans don't eat the variety of foods that are needed to reach those levels.
Prenatal vitamins are designed to work with a more typical eating routine, so they may not help in the matter. Doctors have linked vegans to an increased risk of early birth. They think it might be tied to vitamin B12 deficiency.
Medical technology has allowed a lot of women to become mothers who have suffered from infertility. But there are some downsides to going through fertility treatments, and that isn't just because of the possibility of multiples that we mentioned before.
Doctors aren't sure why, but there is an increased chance that a baby conceived via IVF is going to be born early. That may have to do with a physical issue that the mom had that hurt her chances to conceive, but that isn't always the case. Some IVF babies come around their due dates, but in comparison to other babies, the chances are higher for a preemie.
There are a number of health complications that can be really difficult for pregnant women, and diabetes can be one of the trickiest. Some women have the condition before they get pregnant, and others can develop gestational diabetes where their pancreas doesn't perform well due to hormones. For both, there is an increased chance of an early birth.
Many women are able to manage their condition with the help of nutrition, meds, and possibly insulin. But if not, the issue can impact the baby. Doctors will monitor a mom with diabetes closely throughout the pregnancy and try to avoid an early birth.
In some pregnancies, everything can seem to be going well with the mom and the baby, until the doctor looks around for the amniotic fluid. It can provide some information that the rest of the ultrasound might mask, and it might mean that the mom and the baby are headed for early delivery.
The amount of amniotic fluid in the sac depends on the baby's health. While there might not appear to be an issue with the kidneys, too little amniotic fluid is a sign of a big problem. That can also be true for too much fluid. Doctors might be able to monitor the situation for a while, but if it gets too serious, the mom will be headed to an early delivery.
For women who have waited a long time for a baby and gone through multiple miscarriages, the arrival of a healthy baby can be precarious. That can be true for a number of reasons, but one truth is that a woman who has lost pregnancies before is more likely to have an early delivery.
This is true whether the mom intended to end the pregnancy or something else happened that caused it, and miscarriages and stillbirths are risk factors. This can make a premature birth even colder for a mom to imagine, but doctors can provide amazing medical care these days, so moms should still have hope for their preemie.
Some women may think that this needs to wait until the ninth month, but moms need to pay attention to their bodies for signs of labor no matter what point she is in the pregnancy. The most well-known sign is to have contractions, but for a preemie, the early pains might be hard to detect.
Most women have a little bit of constipation during pregnancy because the natural hormones can slow down digestion. But shortly before the birth, many time they will have the opposite issue of diarrhea. So if the mom ends up having a bout of tummy troubles during pregnancy, it might be a sign of labor, even if it is too early.
Going into labor early can be really harrowing for a mom, but that doesn't mean that the delivery is going to come right away. We want to assure moms that many times the doctor can prescribe meds that can slow things down and maybe even stop contractions for a period of time.
That might mean that the mom goes on bed rest, possibly in the hospital. And before 36 weeks the doctor will probably give the mom steroids to try to develop the baby's lungs more. Sometimes the results only last a few days, but every day of gestation is important for a preemie, so that can make a big difference for the baby's health.