It's now estimated that 1 out of 8 babies is born premature (prior to 37 weeks gestation) and often parents are not taught about the warning signs of premature labor. Being aware of the potential signs of early labor can help ensure parents seek immediate medical care, as there are treatments which can sometimes help delay delivery. For a premature baby every single day in the womb can make a significant difference, so early education and intervention is crucial. While many people envision a premature baby arriving a few weeks early, not all parents realize preterm labor may begin in your second trimester! It is always better to call your care provider and ask about your symptoms, rather than ignoring them or waiting until your next appointment to ask. Better to call than to wish you had called!
What are some of the warning signs of preterm labor?
* Contractions every 10 minutes or more often in your third trimester. If in your second trimester then even 4 or more contractions an hour should be checked. When relaxed your uterus feels soft, like touching your cheek. When contracting your uterus will feel hard, like touching your forehead. In early pregnancy your body will be having practice contractions, but if they are coming more consistently, are causing you pain, or are lasting for more than 30 seconds it's cause for concern.
* Change in vaginal discharge: a sudden increase in fluid, a bloody show, or a thick mucous plug. Some mothers have a problem with leaking urine while pregnant, but if you are unsure if it's urine or amniotic fluid it's better to be checked than not! And I promise, you will NOT be the first mother to come in for an exam to rule out leaking fluid. They would rather it be urine than amniotic fluid so please don't be embarrassed!
* Pelvic pressure: especially in your third trimester you'll feel increasing pressure down low as the baby drops, but if you are concerned by the pressure or a sense of fullness, GET CHECKED.
* Low, dull backache: this is often a first indicator of labor, preterm or full term!
* Cramps that feel like your menstrual cycle.
* Abdominal cramps with or without diarrhea.
If your care provider doesn't bring up warning signs of preterm labor it's important that you start that discussion! Ask them in your second trimester (or earlier) what signs you should look for and what you should do in each case. Sometimes calling the doctor during office hours is enough, but other times every moment counts and you will need to get immediate medical attention - either calling 911 or heading straight to your closest ER.
As a doula I am NOT a medical care provider, and you should speak with your midwife or obstetrician about what is best for you. You can read more about prematurity at The March of Dimes site. I hope you will not ever need to know this information, but from firsthand experience I can say it's better to be aware! 🙂
While in the NICU with our son we were told a lost day in the womb equals approximately three days in the NICU. Every day counts towards your baby's development, and the sooner the signs of preterm labor are count the greater the likelihood your birth can be delayed and your baby can continue safely growing inside of you. If at any point in your pregnancy you feel concerned by symptoms, call your doctor or seek immediate medical care.
We are grateful that we were warned well in advance that our preemie would be arriving, allowing us to be in the right place when the time came. Against the odds our 23 week little boy survived and is thriving, but we wish so much that parents and babies could be spared the pain and trauma of such an early arrival. I hope this information will help another parent and baby avoid a premature birth.