Recognising preterm labour

Preterm (or premature) labour refers to labour that starts before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Signs of labour before the 37 weeks of pregnancy may be more subtle than the signs that might occur later in pregnancy, after 37 weeks. Many women will appreciate that babies need to "cook" until they're full term, that is, 37-42 weeks of pregnancy. Babies who are born before 37 weeks of pregnancy tend to experience more health issues than term babies, and it is for this reason that midwives and obstetricians would like to know as soon as possible if you think you might be in preterm labour.

Preterm labour might not necessarily be "painful". And you generally don't need to dilate to 10 centimeters before the baby can be born, as the baby is smaller and can pass through a prtially-dilated cervix. For this reason, a preterm labour will often be shorter than a term labour.

Some tips: Be aware of contractions. They can feel as if like your abdomen is tightening like a fist every 10 minutes or less, rather than anything sharp or painful.

Pay attention to back pain. A dull ache in the lower back can be a sign of labour, whether it is constant or it comes and goes at intervals. Likewise, you might also experience pain or a dull ache down the inside of legs.

You also may feel more pressure or fullness in your pelvic area, as if your baby is pushing down.

Regular cramps that feel like period pain or gas pains — aren’t a normal discomfort of pregnancy.

Don’t wait for your waters to break. Even with full-term births, only about one in four women will experience the stereotypical gush of water before labour begins. TV is not real! In most cases, your waters will not break until your baby is just about to be born.

Stay in tune with your baby. A decrease in typical fetal movements after 28 weeks may also need attention.

Err on the side of caution. Your midwife or obstetrician would much rather check you numerous times unnecessarily, than risk you birthing a preterm baby unassisted. Often times, a woman in preterm labour will "niggle" for a while, before labour kicks into gear. Once it does, it is often very short. Call your doctor or midwife with concerns and follow their advice. If symptoms worsen or return, call again.

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