Having a full-term pregnancy is best for your baby's health. Full-term pregnancies
usually last about 40 weeks.
When a baby is born earlier than 37 weeks, it's called a preterm or premature birth.
Babies who are born early can have health problems that may last their whole lives.
Can Early Labor Be Prevented?
Some women are more likely to go into labor
early. Those with a short or weak cervix (the lower
part of the uterus that connects to the vagina) or who have had a premature
baby before are more likely to go into labor early. In these cases, the doctor
may recommend treatments such as:
Progesterone: This hormone can be given as a shot
or put into the vagina. It can help lower the chances of going into labor early for
women who have had a premature baby before or who have a short cervix.
Cerclage: In this procedure, stitches close a woman's cervix
to help prevent preterm birth. Doctors may recommend cerclage for women who have had
premature babies or miscarriages, who have a short cervix, or who have a cervix that
begins to open (dilate) too early.
Women who are having twins
also are more likely to go into labor early. These treatments can't prevent early
labor if you're carrying more than one baby.
What if Labor Starts Early?
Moms who think they're in
labor or are having contractions (belly pains or cramps) should call their doctor
or midwife right away. If there's any bleeding or your water breaks (which can be
an on-and-off leak, a steady leak, or a gush of fluid), it's important to get to a
hospital right away.
If labor starts early, it's best to go to a hospital that has a neonatal
intensive care unit (NICU). Hospitals with a NICU specialize in treating preterm
babies. Care for a woman in preterm labor can include:
Antibiotics: These can treat or prevent infections in the baby
and the mother.
Steroids: These drugs can help speed up a baby's lung growth
and decrease the chances of breathing problems if the baby is born too soon.
Medicine to slow or stop labor contractions temporarily: Delaying
labor even a day or two can be enough time for steroids to help a baby's lungs develop.
It also gives hospital staff time to get the mother to a hospital with a NICU, if
Doctors won't try to stop contractions if the baby is more than 34 weeks and the
lungs are developed, or if there are worries about the mother's or baby's health.
What Can I Do?
Preterm birth can't always be prevented. But moms-to-be can help lower their chances
of going into labor too soon. Here's the best advice:
See your doctor early and regularly in your pregnancy for prenatal
Take care of any health problems, like diabetes,
high blood pressure, or depression.