Preterm Labor

If a baby is born before the thirty-seventh week of pregnancy – more than weeks early – the birth is called preterm and the baby premature. Premature birth represents the greatest health risk to newborns. Preterm babies have increased risk of neonatal problems. Their lungs and other organs may not ready to function yet. Respiratory distress is the greatest concern, and babies often have difficulty maintaining their body temperature. In addition their sucking may be weak, and they are more susceptible to infection.

Women who are more likely to go into preterm labor include those w had a previous miscarriage or preterm birth; who have an over distend uterus from a multiple pregnancy or from an excess of amniotic fluid; smoke, take drugs, or are malnourished; who are under the age of 18 or over 35; who are experiencing a high degree of emotional distress; who have jobs that involve standing for long periods or enduring other stressful working conditions; and who have a vaginal or urinary tract infection or an infection of the membranes of the amniotic sac.

Preterm labor can often be stopped if it is caught in time. The treatment f preterm labor includes bed rest; antibiotics, if indicated, for infection; possibly medications to relax the uterus and stop the contractions. While so studies question the efficacy of bed rest, it is the current treatment of choice The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved a test that can predict whether a pregnant woman is about to experience a preterm birth. The test detects a substance called fetal fibronectin in the cervical/vaginal secretions. Fetal fibronectin is an adhesive protein that serves as “natural glue” on the placenta. The substance changes into a lubricant just before labor begins. It should not be present in the cervical/vaginal secretions after twenty-second week of pregnancy unless there is a problem, such as an infection. Its presence indicates a high risk of delivering within the next 2 weeks.

In cases of impending preterm birth between 24 and 34 weeks gestation, a treatment is available that accelerates fetal lung maturity. Synthetic steroids wit been shown to reduce the incidence of respiratory distress syndrome and brain hemorrhage in newborns by 50 percent and to reduce death rates by 40 percent. According to a recommendation of the National Institutes of Health this medication should be used when delivery prior to 34 weeks gestation is likely, unless the medication will have an adverse effect on the woman or delivery is imminent. If you experience any signs of labor more than 3 weeks before your due date, contact your caregiver right away.