Preterm labour: Why it happens and how to prevent premature birth

Giving birth to your child before the 37th week of pregnancy can be harmful for your baby. So, try to prevent preterm labour.
A pregnant woman
You can try to prevent preterm labour. Image courtesy: Freepik
Natalia Ningthoujam Published: 18 Dec 2023, 01:15 pm IST
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Babies need to be in the womb for about 39 to 40 weeks so that they can grow and develop properly. So, when it comes to your baby’s health, having a full-term pregnancy is best. But some factors can lead to early labour and premature birth. We tell you what those factors are and how you can prevent preterm labour.

In 2020, around 13.4 million babies were born preterm, according to the World Health Organization. Complications during preterm birth are the leading cause of death among children under the age of five, as per the WHO. These complications that can affect a baby’s lungs or heart were responsible for about 900,000 deaths in 2019.

Pregnant woman
Preterm birth complications are the leading cause of death among children under the age of five. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

What is preterm labour?

Preterm labour refers to the onset of labour before 37 weeks of pregnancy have been completed, says obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Ayesha Gulzar. Preterm birth can pose health risks for the baby, as their organs, particularly the lungs, might not be fully developed. This can lead to complications such as respiratory distress syndrome. This breathing disorder is caused by immature lungs in newborns.

What are the causes of preterm labour?

There are several factors that can contribute to preterm labour, including:

1. Multiple pregnancies

If a woman is expecting twins or higher-order multiples then the chances of going to early labour are higher, says the expert.

2. Infections

Infections of the amniotic fluid or reproductive organs can trigger early contractions. These infections can also lead to the death of the mother or the unborn child.

3. Chronic conditions

Conditions such as high blood pressure may increase the risk, as the mother’s high blood pressure will make it difficult for the baby to get enough nutrients and oxygen to grow. So, the mother may have to deliver the baby before 40 weeks of pregnancy.

4. Placental issues

There are times when there are problems with the placenta. They can interfere with the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the foetus.

What are the signs of preterm labour?

Recognising the signs of preterm labour is crucial. They may include:

• Regular contractions that occur every 10 minutes or more.
• Persistent low abdominal pain or cramping.
• An increase in vaginal discharge.
• A feeling of pressure in the pelvic area.

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What are the ways to prevent preterm labour?

You can make efforts to make sure you have a full-term pregnancy. Here are a few things you can do:

1. Regular prenatal care

It is not just in the beginning or at the time of delivery that you should consult with a doctor. Regular check-ups are a must, as they can help to identify and address potential issues early.

A happy pregnant woman
Maintain a healthy lifestyle to prevent preterm labour. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

2. Maintain a healthy lifestyle

There is always an emphasis on a balanced diet and regular exercise. These become more important during pregnancy to avoid any complication.

3. Stay hydrated

Proper hydration supports overall health and helps to prevent pregnancy-related complications. So, have water and healthy beverages to stay hydrated.

4. Manage chronic conditions

You can have a healthy pregnancy even if you have high blood pressure or diabetes. You just need to work with your doctor to manage these conditions during pregnancy.

5. Avoid infections

Apart from keeping your immune system strong by eating right, you need to practice good hygiene. This will help to reduce the risk of infections that could lead to preterm labour.

6. Manage stress

High-stress levels may contribute to preterm labour, says Dr Gulzar. So, find effective stress management techniques for a full-term pregnancy.

7. Limit caffeine and alcohol

A warm cup of tea or coffee in the morning is fine. But having excessive caffeine or alcohol may lead to preterm birth, so moderation is key.

8. Quit smoking

Smoking is a significant risk factor for preterm birth, says the expert. Quitting smoking can improve the chances of a healthy pregnancy.

9. Avoid illegal substances

The use of illicit drugs like cocaine can significantly increase the risk of preterm labour. So, avoid having any substance that is illegal.

10. Monitor fetal movements

Within months of your pregnancy, you will know about your little one’s movements. Being aware of these movements is important, and if you notice any significant changes, talk to your doctor.

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About the Author

Natalia Ningthoujam has written on various subjects - from music to films and fashion to lifestyle - as a journalist in her career that started in 2010. After getting stories from the crime scene, police headquarters, and conducting interviews with celebrities, she is now writing on health and wellness which has become her focus area. ...Read More

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