A pregnant woman is considered full-term between 37 and 42 weeks of pregnancy. Any birth that occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy is considered preterm. Because the lungs have not fully matured before this time, it is very dangerous for a baby to be born before the 37th week of pregnancy. Many infants will die or have severe health problems due to being born prematurely. Although most women will be full term when they deliver, about 12% of all pregnancies will end in a premature delivery.
A baby that is born too early will likely suffer developmental delays, breathing problems, digestive disorders and will likely have a hard time regulating their own body temperature. There will likely be more problems and complications the earlier the baby is born. In addition to these health problems, a premature baby will usually be very tiny and may have feeding problems as well. Although the majority of premature babies will suffer some complications, not all will. Some babies are born early and do phenomenal from the start.
Continued research is being done on preterm labor and why it occurs. At this time there is no exact cause of preterm labor, only theories and speculations that will put a woman at an increased risk. Women that are obese or severly underweight are at a higher risk for experiencing preterm labor. Age is thought to be a risk factor as well. Women under 17 or over 35t are at an increased risk. Research has shown that another factor in preterm labor is a short amount of time in between pregnancies. Women that get pregnant within one year of delivery tend to experience preterm labor more frequently. Some of the most common risk factors for experiencing preterm labor include:
*Having had a prior preterm birth
*Carrying a pregnancy with multiples
*Cervical and uterine abnormalites
*Lack of prenatal care
*Smoking during pregnancy
*Alcohol use during pregnancy
*Illegal drug use during pregnancy
*Birth defects in the fetus
*High blood pressure
It is important to recognize and understand the signs of preterm labor. Anytime you are uncertain, call your healthcare provider. If you have any of the following symptoms before the 37th week of pregnancy, it is important to notify your doctor. If you can not get in touch with your doctor, you should proceed to your caregivers office or another medical facility for an examination. Your doctor will likely check your cervix for any signs of impending labor and will monitor your contractions. Oftentimes doctors recommend laying on your left side or drinking water to see if that helps the symptoms to go away.
*Contractions that come every 10 minutes or closer
*Fluid leaking from vagina
*Low, dull backache
If at possible, preterm labor will try to be stopped until you are considered full term. This can be done with bedrest and medications to stop contractions. If your water breaks before this time, most doctors prefer to go ahead and deliver the baby to decrease the risk of fetal infection.
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