November is Prematurity Awareness Month, hosted by March of Dimes, the organization long known for raising funds for premature babies and campaigns for preventing prematurity. While you can't always do things to prevent preterm labor and premature birth, one of the simplest things you can do is learn how to reduce your risks. One of the simplest ways to reduce your risk of premature birth is to know the symptoms of preterm labor.
In many ways, preterm labor is a lot like early labor. The primary difference is that the signs and symptoms of premature labor happen before 37 weeks of pregnancy. If you're familiar with the signs of labor, but experience them at 28 weeks, you may not be thinking, "I might be in labor," but rather, "Did I eat something bad?" For this reason, it's a good idea to pay attention to all potential labor signs, especially those occurring before 37 weeks.
Don't Ignore These Signs of Preterm Labor
If you are before 37 weeks of pregnancy and experience any of the following, call your midwife, OB, or doctor right away.
- Change from your normal vaginal discharge, including more than usual, watery, bloody, or thickened/blobby mucous
- Pressure in your lower belly, pelvis, or vaginal area; feeling like baby is pushing down
- Continuous (won't let up) low, dull backache
- Pelvic cramping (similar to period cramps, may be more intense) that comes and goes in a pattern or is constant
- Stomach or intestinal cramps, whether or not you're also having diarrhea
- Regular, frequent, or patterned contractions, whether or not they are painful/uncomfortable; they may only be felt as a tightening and releasing of your belly (which in reality, is your uterus tightening)
- Your water breaks, which could be felt as a gush, but more than likely felt as a trickle of fluid; your water can break before the start of any contractions
- Flu-like symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
If you suspect you may be in labor before 37 weeks, contact your care provider. Depending on your symptoms, your provider will either ask to see you in their office or go directly to your place of birth, hospital or birth center. You will be further evaluated for preterm labor signs and may be admitted to be monitored for a period of time. Your provider may administer medication that works to stop labor.
You can learn more about premature labor and birth at March of Dimes, which has excellent, easy-to-understand resources and tips.