What You Need to Know About Premature Labour

Influencing Factors And Signs

labour and delivery

Pregnancy generally lasts approximately forty weeks, with the baby developing each day in readiness for life outside the womb. A baby born before thirty-seven weeks of pregnancy is considered premature (born before complete maturity), with approximately eight percent of births in Canada considered premature.1 If your baby is one of these and arrives at this stage in your pregnancy — week thirty-five — he would likely be just fine, although a little early. Babies born in week thirty-five have typically had enough time to grow and develop, so their early arrival doesn’t lead to any long-term health problems. 

Factors that can influence premature labour include, but are not limited to:

  • Chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes
  • Cervical incompetence, the inability of the cervix to stay closed during pregnancy
  • Conceiving through in vitro fertilization
  • Infections such as urinary tract infections or infections of the amniotic fluid
  • Medical illness such as heart or kidney disease
  • Multiple births, for example twins or triplets
  • Physical injury or trauma
  • Premature rupture of the amniotic sac
  • Previous preterm labour or birth
  • Problems with the uterus, cervix or placenta
  • Stressful life events

Speak to your health care provider about any concerns you have during your pregnancy and any symptoms you experience so that factors contributing to premature labour can be identified early and managed. Your doctor may be able to advise you on how to carry your baby to full term or may be able to medically stop you from going into labour early in order to provide extra time in the womb for your baby to develop.
Watch for the signs of preterm labour and contact your health care provider immediately if you experience:

  • Backache or pelvic pressure or pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Painful contractions that increase in frequency and intensity
  • Vaginal spotting or bleeding, or a watery vaginal discharge, which may be your water breaking

Due to their early arrival, preterm babies may weigh less than five and a half pounds, usually referred to as low birth weight (LBW). Rest assured, though, that at this stage in your pregnancy, an early delivery is generally not problematic, and your baby — like most born as of week thirty-five — will generally be fine. Babies born prematurely from thirty-two weeks on generally do well, with any initial medical problems treatable and not long-lasting.

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

Some premature babies may need to spend time in the NICU to help in the transition to life outside the womb. In these cases, familiarizing yourself with the policies and routine can help you feel more in control during what can be a worrying time. Note the visiting hours and restrictions when nurses change shifts and when doctors make rounds. Find out when and from whom you will be given updates. Ask lots of questions about your baby’s condition and don’t hesitate to ask the nurse or doctor to write the information down for you. Your ability to absorb the information you are given is compromised given the anxiety you feel and you may find it easier to comprehend the information if you have it in written form and can refer to it again and again, and in quieter moments.
When babies leave the NICU for home, they may still need special care and the first few months in particular can be challenging. If this is your situation, know that parents all over the world are experiencing the frustrations, worries and joys that you are. Your baby may need more care than a full-term baby at first but the protective love and worry you feel for your baby is shared by parents everywhere, regardless of their baby’s birth history.

1 Rising Premature Births Require More Support November 19, 2010