Most pregnancies last to term, which is at least 37 weeks. Full term is 39 – 40 weeks, but about 12% of babies in the U.S. are born preterm or prematurely.
Prematurity can cause many health issues for the child, and it occurs more frequently with women younger than 17 or older than 35. Avoiding risk factors and knowing the symptoms are only a part of your guide to preterm labor prevention.
Risk Factors Out of Your Control
Unfortunately, when it comes to preterm labor and birth, there are certain issues out of your control. One of those risk factors includes being pregnant with multiples like twins or triplets. Another is having had a premature baby in the past. If you were born prematurely, your risk for a preterm labor increases. Lastly, if you have problems with uterine or cervical abnormalities now or at any point in the past, you can be at a higher risk for an early delivery.
There is nothing you can do about these things and yet they put you at a higher risk for a preterm labor or birth. It might sound annoying, but it is true. The worst news is that if you do everything right during your pregnancy, you can still give birth too early.
The best you can do is control what you can.
What You Can Control to Prevent Preterm Labor
Concentrate on what you can control. There are a number of positive behaviors which may assist in lowering your risk for preterm labor or birth.
Get Proper Prenatal Care
As soon as you suspect you may be pregnant, see a healthcare professional. Then, be sure to keep all follow up appointments during your pregnancy, and follow Dr. Tricia Shimer’s recommendations.
Get to a Healthy Weight
Attaining a healthy weight before getting pregnant reduces your risk of preterm labor. Then it becomes important to gain the the recommended amount of weight during your pregnancy.
Get Treated for Any Chronic Medical Issues
Make sure to manage your diabetes and high blood pressure, and don’t be afraid to seek help for depression, or to check on any thyroid issues. If you don’t have these conditions, great! However, you should still be keeping an eye out for any abnormal symptoms since these problems can arise at any time.
Try to Reduce Stress
If you have a stressful job, talk to your boss to see if your workload can be adjusted. Avoid standing on your feet too long at work, but be sure to eat healthy, stay active, and never be afraid to ask for help from family and friends to aid in preterm labor prevention.
Don’t Get Pregnant Again Too Soon
It is beneficial to wait at least 18 months before getting pregnant again. This is especially important if you are over the age of 35, or if you have had a miscarriage or stillborn birth in the past. The longer you wait, the more you lessen your chances of preterm labor. Use birth control and ask Dr. Shimer to recommend a waiting period specifically for you and the current state of your health.
Protect Yourself from Infection
Just like everyone else in the world, you should wash your hands regularly in warm soapy water. It is also important for pregnant women to receive any needed vaccinations, and to avoid certain foods such as raw meat, fish, or eggs. In addition, avoid cleaning up after your dog or cat, especially their feces. And, as always, make sure to practice safe sex, even while pregnant!
Have Regular Dental Cleanings
Pregnant women are more susceptible to gum infections and disease, which makes your regularly scheduled cleanings all the more critical for the health of you and your baby. Periodontal disease has also been linked to early delivery.
This is one behavior that is completely in your control. Even second hand smoke drastically increases the risk for preterm labor. In addition, don’t drink alcoholic beverages or indulge in illicit drugs. These behaviors can put you at risk for a miscarriage.
Seek Help and Support
Sadly, there are many women who find themselves at the hands of domestic abuse or violence in the home. Obviously, this is not a suitable living situation for anyone, let alone an expectant mother and her helpless baby.
Symptoms of Concern
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is best to contact Dr. Shimer as soon as possible:
- Changes or increase in vaginal discharge like becoming watery, bloody or filled with mucus
- Pressure in the pelvic area
- Belly cramps
- Dull, constant lower back pain
- Regular or infrequent contractions making your belly feel tight like a fist
- Rupture of amniotic sac (water breaks)
Avoid the risk factors, and know the symptoms for preterm labor to help increase your odds of carrying all the way to term.
See Dr. Shimer regularly during pregnancy, and ask about your specific risks for preterm labor and how you both can work together to mitigate these risk factors.