PreTerm Birth

Preterm birth is defined as the delivery of a baby between 20 and 37 weeks of pregnancy. Staying pregnant past 37 weeks is one of the best ways to allow sufficient time necessary for a baby to grow and develop. Babies born preterm may be born with serious health problems.

What causes preterm birth?

Some preterm births are caused by specific medical conditions, and some women have a greater chance of having a preterm birth due to certain risk factors. These risk factors include:

  • Prior unexpected preterm birth before 37 weeks. Women with past preterm births are 2 to 3 times more likely to deliver preterm in the future.
  • Pregnant with twins or triplets
  • Short cervix as seen on a transvaginal ultrasound exam
  • Early cervical dilation measured during a pelvic exam
  • Past procedures on the cervix
  • High blood pressure
  • Stress
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Short time interval between pregnancies (6-18 months)
  • Infections of the uterus, vagina, or urinary tract during pregnancy including sexually transmitted infections
  • Smoking, drinking alcohol or using illegal drugs

Is there anything to prevent preterm birth?

  • Some providers may deliver progesterone shots beginning at 16 to 24 weeks of pregnancy until 36 weeks of pregnancy. This hormone may help prevent preterm birth in women with prior preterm birth.
  • If a woman has a short cervix as seen on transvaginal ultrasound, a procedure called a cerclage can be performed to close the cervix with one to two stitches.

What is preterm labor?

Preterm labor is defined as contractions leading to changes in the cervix. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Pelvic pressure
  • Change in vaginal discharge – watery, bloody, with mucous, increased amount
  • Constant, low, dull backache
  • Regular or frequent contractions
  • Ruptured membranes

If you experience any of these symptoms, immediately call your provider or go to the hospital.

How is preterm labor managed?

It is difficult to predict which women with preterm labor will progress to preterm birth. Sometimes, preterm labor is too far along to be stopped and delivery is necessary. Some medications may be given to help the baby mature, reduce complications, or attempt to delay delivery. These medications include:

  • Corticosteroids help the baby’s development of lungs, brain, and digestive system
  • Magnesium sulfate to reduce the risk of health problems in the baby
  • Tocolytics to delay delivery of the baby

All information is provided by:

American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists

Lumara Health: Delivering the Facts on Preterm Birth