Signs and Symptoms of Preterm Labour

As your due date nears, you might feel your uterus occasionally contract as it "practices" for giving birth. These perfectly normal “false” labour contractions are called Braxton-Hicks contractions. However, about 10 percent of moms-to-be will experience signs that indicate they might be going into a premature delivery of their baby. Unlike Braxton-Hicks contractions, preterm labour contractions are the real thing, indicating the labour is starting before the baby is ready to be born.

How can you tell whether you're experiencing Braxton-Hicks or premature labour contractions, and what steps can you take to try to prevent a premature labour? Read on to find out.

Braxton-Hicks Contractions

You may start to notice Braxton-Hicks contractions in your third trimester. These can feel like a generalised tightening of your uterus, almost as though it were balling up, or like your baby is doing a somersault. These contractions usually aren't too painful and almost always stop after an hour or so. Although all moms-to-be have Braxton-Hicks, not everyone will feel them, particularly if it’s a first pregnancy. Braxton-Hicks contractions also typically go away when you move around or change positions.

Signs of Preterm Labour

Premature labour contractions can occur between week 20 and week 37. Some signs you might be going into early labour include:

  • Contractions do not stop, and they become more frequent, regular, and uncomfortable over time

  • Feeling menstrual-like cramps above the pubic bone

  • An achy feeling in the pelvis, thighs, or groin

  • A dull lower backache or back pressure

  • Intestinal cramping or diarrhoea

  • Increased vaginal discharge

  • Watery fluid, pinkish or brownish discharge, or blood coming from the vagina.

If you’re in any doubt about whether you’re experiencing real or false contractions, if you experience any of these signs of premature labour, or if you feel more than four contractions in an hour, call your doctor. You may be asked to go to your hospital for closer monitoring, or to time your contractions.

Stress and Premature Labour

Studies reveal that higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol are one of the reasons that can trigger the premature birth of a baby. This is all the more reason to keep calm and surround yourself with positivity. These are some practical steps you can take to reduce stress:

  • Talk it through. You might have lots of worries about your pregnancy, the health of your baby, the labour, and the costs of having a new baby, but talking to your doctor and loved ones might help reassure you.

  • Pinpoint the stressor. Think about the exact things that are causing stress and address them individually as a way to help minimise stress levels.

  • Get some rest. It can be challenging finding a comfortable sleeping position later in pregnancy, but adequate sleep could be just the thing you need to stay calm and happy. Sometimes a quick nap can do wonders to ward off any negative emotions.

  • Get a massage. A relaxing massage could go a long way to helping you unwind. Find a massage therapist that is trained in prenatal massage, so that the massage is adjusted to the changing shape of your body.

  • Yoga and meditation. Mind-body techniques trigger the body’s relaxation response. Try a meditation class and speak to your doctor about whether some gentle pregnancy yoga is right for you.

  • Ask for help. There is no shame in asking for help when you feel overwhelmed by to-do’s. You might be surprised by how eager your friends and family are to help.

How to Help Prevent the Premature Birth of Your Baby

You’re probably wondering: how can I stop premature labour? Unfortunately, there is no definite way. If you do experience early signs of premature labour, contact your doctor right away. You may be admitted to hospital – under close monitoring, bed rest and drinking lots of water might help stop it.

Other than reducing stress, which we’ve described above, these are some of the precautions you can take to help prevent the onset of premature labour to begin with:

  • Stay hydrated. Drink 250ml of water or juice every couple of hours as dehydration can make your uterus more prone to contractions.

  • Gain weight. Eat a healthy diet, and try to gain between 11 to 16 kilograms (25 to 35 pounds) during your pregnancy. This figure is for those who start pregnancy with a normal BMI, but could vary for other starting weights.

  • Avoid urinary tract infections. After using the bathroom, always wipe from front to back to help prevent a urinary tract infection (UTI).

  • Elevate your feet. Sit down with your legs elevated every hour or so.

  • Don't exert yourself. Don’t lift heavy objects and rest if you experience contractions that don't stop within a short time.

As you go about preparing for the arrival of your baby, the possibility of premature labour could be a little scary, but remember that the majority of pregnancies go full term. It might also help you feel a little more reassured to read up on some general advice for childbirth and tips for a healthy pregnancy.

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