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Premature Labor

Know the signs of premature labor

If a woman goes into labor prior to week 37 of her pregnancy, she is experiencing premature labor. Also called preterm labor, premature labor occurs in more than 1 in 10 pregnancies and is, unfortunately, a leading cause of infant death in the United States.

The causes of premature labor are unclear, and there is therefore no definitive way to predict who will experience it. However there are conditions that significantly increase a woman's risk of preterm labor, including its occurrence in a previous pregnancy, certain forms of vaginitis (vaginal infection) or a shortened cervix.

Medical professionals caring for pregnant women at high risk -- especially those women who have previously delivered a baby prematurely -- will seek to reduce the risk of an(other) occurrence of premature labor by prescribing preventative measures such as diligent hydration, uterine-relaxation medications and strict bed rest.

Symptoms of Premature Labor

Some common signs of premature labor are the same as those of full-term labor, such as contractions that are 10 minutes or less apart and a feeling of significant pelvic pressure. Other premature labor signs are vaginal bleeding or fluid discharge, abdominal or what feel like menstrual cramps, and lower back pain. The presence of one of these symptoms does not necessarily mean you are going into preterm labor, but if you do experience any of them for a period of more than an hour, it is crucial that you see your doctor or other prenatal health care professional immediately, just to be sure, because a prompt medical response to preterm labor can in some cases make a huge difference in its outcome.

Risks Associated with Premature Labor

Obviously, the greatest danger with premature labor is that the baby will have to be born before it has grown and developed enough to be able to survive on its own outside the mother's body. Premature infants can face a host of health issues, such as respiratory and immune-system problems, serious infection, developmental disabilities and low birth weight. Where preterm labor does result in premature birth, the mother's emotional health is also at risk -- besides being worried for her baby, she will feel guilty despite the fact she did nothing wrong.

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