Preterm labour: What do I do?

accreditation

Labour that starts before 37 weeks is called preterm labour. Although nine months of pregnancy feels like a lifetime, this doesn’t mean you want to go into early labour or have a premature baby.

Dr Trudy Smith, an obstetrician at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, stresses the importance of good antenatal care and recognising the signs of early labour so that women can get help.

“Although we can’t always identify the cause of premature labour, we know which mothers are at risk, so we can monitor them carefully throughout the pregnancy, in an effort to prevent or minimise complications,” says Dr Smith.

Also read: Common concerns around sex during pregnancy

One of the biggest problems with premature labour is that baby’s lungs don’t have time to develop properly. “Sometimes spontaneous labour can be stopped or controlled long enough to mature the baby’s lungs, to minimise complications,” she says.

“But when the mother’s life is at risk because there is no way of stopping vaginal bleeding or controlling pregnancy induced hypertension (high blood pressure), we have no choice but to deliver the baby early.”

The cause

Premature labour may be caused by complications with the baby, the womb, hormones or other circumstances.

For example, a big baby (either because of genetics or gestational diabetes) can overstretch the womb, as does a multiple pregnancy or polyhydramnios (too much amniotic fluid).

The cervix (mouth of the womb) may be weak and unable to “hold” the baby beyond six months. Infectionsleaking amniotic fluid and vaginal bleeding are all associated with early labour. “Women with pregnancy induced hypertension may also need to deliver early,” says Dr Smith.

Also read: Bed rest: What the doctor means

Can you prevent it?

So what can women do to minimise risks? “It’s important for a woman to go to her doctor or clinic regularly during pregnancy and to report anything abnormal,” says Dr Smith.

Signs of early labour include regular contractions with low abdominal cramping (like period pain) or constant backache. Women often instinctively feel that something is wrong, especially if there is diarrhoea and a pink or blood stained vaginal discharge.

Once assessed, the woman may be admitted to hospital and put on a drip in an effort to stop or delay labour long enough to help the baby’s lungs mature. If labour is stopped, the woman may be allowed to go home, providing that she rests and reports any changes or signs of labour.

Once the womb has started to open (when the cervix starts to dilate) and the waters have broken, labour is inevitable. Then a paediatrician and the hospital High Care unit will be alerted to be on standby for when the baby is born.

Also read: Hypnobirthing - does it work?

Signs of early labour

Premature labour should not be confused with Braxton Hicks contractions. These are irregular, painless, “practice” contractions that come and go throughout pregnancy. True premature labour contractions are constant.

Because it’s not practical (and stressful) if you’re always phoning your doctor/midwife or rushing off to the hospital, try monitor contractions for at least an hour or have a relaxing bath before you panic. If you’re feeling worse after the hour, get medical help. If symptoms disappear with rest, it was a false alarm.

Did you go into early labour? How did you manage your preterm labour? Tell us you story by emailing chatback@parent24.com and we may publish it.

Read more:

Sign up to our weekly newsletter to receive Parent24 stories directly to your inbox.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Zama zama crackdown: What are your thoughts on West Village residents taking the law into their own hands?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Authorities should bring in the army already
12% - 889 votes
Illegal miners can't be scapegoated for all crime
43% - 3195 votes
What else did we expect without no proper policing
41% - 3079 votes
Vigilante groups are also part of the problem
4% - 298 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
16.26
+2.0%
Rand - Pound
19.89
+0.7%
Rand - Euro
16.79
+0.9%
Rand - Aus dollar
11.49
+0.5%
Rand - Yen
0.12
+0.1%
Gold
1,795.21
+0.1%
Silver
20.65
+0.6%
Palladium
2,240.50
+0.8%
Platinum
941.50
+0.4%
Brent Crude
96.31
-0.4%
Top 40
63,304
-0.7%
All Share
69,929
-0.5%
Resource 10
64,632
-0.6%
Industrial 25
84,965
-1.0%
Financial 15
15,742
0.0%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

LEARN MORE