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Preterm Labor & Preterm Birth
A full-term pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks, giving the baby the time it needs to fully develop. In some pregnancies, women go into labor too early, a complication known as “preterm” or premature labor. Labor is considered preterm if it starts before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Preterm labor can lead to preterm or premature birth, putting the baby at risk of serious, lifelong health issues.
Know Your Risk
While all women are at risk of preterm labor and birth, one of the most significant risk factors is a history of prior preterm delivery.
Other factors that increase your risk of preterm labor and birth include:
- Having a short cervix
- Pregnant with twins, triplets or other multiples
- Short interval between pregnancies
- History of surgery of the uterus or cervix
- Certain medical conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes and placenta previa
- African American ethnicity
- Lifestyle factors such as low pre-pregnancy weight or drug use during pregnancy
Symptoms of Preterm Labor
Knowing the warning signs of preterm labor can help expedite treatment and reduce the risks of premature birth.
Symptoms may include:
- Contractions every 10 minutes or more frequently
- Change in type or amount of vaginal discharge (blood, watery fluid or mucus)
- Feeling of pressure in the pelvis
- Low, dull backache
- Cramps that feel like menstrual cramps
- Abdominal cramps with or without diarrhea
If you experience symptoms of preterm labor, contact your healthcare provider immediately.
The Dangers of Preterm Birth
In 2014, preterm birth affected approximately 1 out of every 10 babies born in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Preterm birth is a leading cause of infant death and a leading contributor to childhood disability.
A birth is preterm or premature when it occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy – when many of the baby’s vital organs, including the lungs, brain and heart, are still developing. The more premature the birth, the greater the risks to the baby’s health and life.
Preterm babies may have complications that include:
- Breathing problems
- Heart problems
- Feeding difficulties
- Cerebral palsy
- Developmental delay
- Vision problems
- Hearing problems
Reducing Your Risks
There are steps every woman can take to reduce her risk of giving birth too early, including:
- Preconception planning. Visit with your healthcare provider before you get pregnant to assess your risks and how to reduce them.
- Lifestyle changes. Simple changes like a healthy diet, not smoking, and taking prenatal vitamins can help reduce your risks and give your baby the healthiest possible start to life.
- Early and frequent prenatal care. Regular prenatal care is critical for early detection and treatment of preterm labor.
Diagnosing Preterm Labor
Preterm labor may be suspected by by:
- Assessment of your symptoms
- Monitoring of your contractions
- Pelvic exam to look for changes in the cervix
- Ultrasound to evaluate your cervix
- Lab testing of vaginal secretions
Treatment of Preterm Labor
Treatment will depend on your pregnancy, your risk factors, and the health of you and your unborn baby.
In general, treatment may include:
- Specialized obstetric care
- Frequent prenatal visits for close monitoring
- Medications or other treatment such as cervical cerclage, if indicated
- Hospitalization, if needed
- Corticosteroids if needed to speed up development of the baby’s lungs and other organs
- Magnesium sulfate to potentially reduce the risk of cerebral palsy associated with early preterm delivery
- A multidisciplinary medical and surgical team, including maternal-fetal medicine specialists, fetal surgeons, neonatologists and pediatric specialists, as needed
- Delivery at a facility equipped to address the needs of premature babies
The Benefits of Specialized Care
At Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women, we are highly trained and experienced in evaluating and managing pregnancies that involve the risk of preterm labor and delivery.
- Preconception risk assessment and counseling
- Expert prenatal evaluation and a recommended plan of care
- Advanced ultrasound and fetal imaging technologies for timely diagnosis and intervention
- Comprehensive care from a collaborative team of maternal, fetal and pediatric specialists
- Delivery at a state-of-the-art facility with 24/7 access to critical support resources
- Immediate access to specialized care for premature babies at Texas Children’s Hospital, including a level IV neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), the Texas Children’s Newborn Center, and the Texas Children’s Fetal Center™
- Specialized support for the emotional toll associated with premature birth, from physicians at The Women’s Place - Center for Reproductive Psychiatry, a unique program dedicated to the care and treatment of women’s reproductive mental health
In the News
- Premature boy helps dad propose to mom for New Year's wedding – FOX News
- The love story of 2 parents and a miracle baby – CBS 11 KHOU
- Couple holds New Year’s Day wedding in Texas Children’s Hospital chapel – TMC News
- Parents get married at Texas Children's to honor premature son – ABC KTRK 13
- Couple marries at Texas Children's Hospital on New Year's so premature son can be present – Houston Chronicle
- This Hospital Wedding Is All Kinds Of Cute – Refinery 29
- Parents Marry At Hospital So Their Preemie Baby Can Attend Wedding & It's Incredibly Sweet – Romper
- Pearland sextuplets turn 5 – NBC KPRC 2
- Perkins sextuplets and Pavilion 5th anniversary – FOX 26 KRIV
- TX Children's celebrates World Prematurity Day – ABC KTRK 13
- Incredible study shows cuddling preemies helps them for decades – Huffington Post
- Kangaroo care still benefits preemies even 20 years later – Forbes
- Woman's baby held idea & heartwarming Huggies preemie video will give you feels – Romper
- Small gifts lift spirits of tiny Texas Children's patients – ABC KTRK 13
- NICU nurses and local media personalities wore 'bad pants' for a great cause (CBS KHOU 11 News)
- Texas Children’s NICU Nurses Sport Bad Pants for Fundraiser (Katy Magazine)
- SEE ALL THE BAD PANTS AT TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL? (ABC KTRK 13)
- 'We were all a family': Preemie mom's poem to thank hospital staff – CNN
- New faces added to Wall of Hope – Houston Chronicle Neighborhood News
- Wall of Hope at Texas Children's Hospital (Field Notes) – TMC Pulse
- Texas Children's Hospital first in state designated as level IV neonatal intensive care unit by Texas Department of State Health Services – KatyNews.com
- Baby rockers offer comfort to newborns in NICU – Houston Chronicle