What is preterm labour?
Labour is the normal physiological process of uterine contractions, leading to the opening of the cervix, descent and birth of the baby. Labour for a term pregnancy can occur anywhere between 37+0 to 42+0 weeks of pregnancy.
Preterm labour is any labour starting after 20+0 and before 37+0 weeks of pregnancy. Preterm labour, if unable to be delayed/stopped, may lead to the birth of a premature baby. Depending on the gestational age of the premature infant, some risks may be higher and special care measures may need to be taken for the baby. Babies born before 34+0 weeks are the most likely to have health concerns and require special care.
Premature babies may:
- Have trouble breathing, feeding and regulating their temperature
- Be more susceptible to infections
- Need to stay in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) for weeks or even months
- Have to say in hospital after their parent is discharged
Risk factors for preterm labour:
- History of previous preterm birth
- Preterm rupture of membranes
- Multiple pregnancy
- Tobacco use
- Illicit or illegal drug use
- Maternal age less than 18 or greater than 35 years old
- Poor nutrition in pregnancy
- Work-related: stress, heavy lifting, standing for long periods of time, shift work
- Stressful home environment
It is important to remember that sometimes preterm labour happens without explanation. For this reason, it is important for all clients to be informed of the signs and symptoms of preterm labour.
Signs and symptoms of preterm labour:
- Persistent lower abdominal ‘menstrual like’ cramps or uterine contractions, coming and going in a regular pattern
- Cramps or contractions that are painful or increasing in intensity
- Vaginal bleeding, more than spotting
- Rupture of membranes, gush of fluid
- Backache, rectal pressure, or vaginal pressure
If you have any of these symptoms, please page your midwife immediately. Your midwife will then determine your care plan based on your individual symptoms and assessment.