Pregnancy is probably the most wonderful and exciting time in life for women. Growing a life and experiencing all of the changes is something that most women can’t exactly describe. From enduring morning sickness to all of the physical changes to a woman’s body, pregnancy is one adventure after another. But one adventure that no pregnancy woman wants to experience is that of preterm labor.
Preterm or premature labor occurs when contractions begin to open the cervix before 37 weeks of pregnancy. While it is true that most babies born at 36 week are typically fine, all obstetricians agree that the longer a baby stays in utero the better. Babies need time to develop, and their lungs are not fully developed until at least 37 weeks in utero. The earlier premature birth happens, the greater the health risks will be for your baby. Many premature babies require specialized care in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Premature babies can have long-term disabilities, and giving birth prematurely will increase your risk of preterm labor in future pregnancies.
While the specific cause of preterm labor is not often clear, there are certain risk factors that can increase the risk of preterm labor. Regular contractions starting after 16 weeks need to be monitored by your doctor. While Braxton Hicks (practice contractions) are normal, any contractions that change the cervix are not normal and can lead to preterm birth if not stopped. Not gaining enough weight during pregnancy can lead to preterm labor, as well as strenuous exercise, heavy lifting, smoking, close pregnancies, and previous preterm births.
Talk to your doctor if you are concerned about preterm labor. Your doctor’s number one goal is the healthy and safety of you and your baby.
Posted on behalf of Sean Lambert M.D., North Pointe OB/GYN Associates