What to Expect When You're Expecting Preterm Labor

Having a premature baby can be a stressful and overwhelming experience. Preterm labor is defined as labor that begins before the 37th week of pregnancy, and it can be difficult to predict which women will give birth prematurely. If you are at risk of having a preterm birth, it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of preterm labor, as well as the treatments available to delay or stop it. At NYU Langone, treatment for

preterm birth

depends on the development of the fetus, especially on total weight and gestational age.

If the doctor thinks the baby is ready to be born, usually after 34 weeks of pregnancy, he or she may recommend that labor proceed. If this happens, you will be admitted to the hospital, where Langone doctors from New York University monitor and evaluate your symptoms every few hours to detect any changes that may indicate that labor is imminent. If you show

signs of preterm labor

, such as regular contractions or leaking amniotic fluid, your doctor may give you a tocolytic medication to suppress labor and give your baby's lungs more time to mature. Depending on your symptoms and your baby's gestational age, your doctor may prescribe medications to delay or stop preterm labor.

Women who have had a previous preterm birth or delivery, previous abdominal surgery, or problems with the uterus or cervix are at greater risk. If treatments don't stop preterm labor or if you or your baby are at risk, your healthcare provider will deliver your baby. If the amniotic fluid, or “water,” leaks or ruptures (a condition called premature rupture of the membranes), the doctor will prescribe an antibiotic, which can cause labor to stop. It's important to drink enough fluids when you have a preterm birth, as dehydration can cause contractions.

Magnesium reduces the chance that a premature baby will have delays in neurological development and may also help delay contractions. If labor is successfully interrupted, you may be sent home from the hospital and your doctor may ask you to restrict certain activities to prevent the symptoms of preterm birth from returning.Any premature baby born before 34 weeks of gestation must spend several weeks in the NICU. On average, doctors recommend that premature babies stay in the NICU up to three to four weeks earlier than their normal due date would have been. If you have a premature birth, you'll need to stay in the hospital.

You may be given medicines to stop contractions and mature your baby's lungs.Preterm birth can sometimes be controlled with bed rest or medication, and it doesn't always result in the baby being delivered prematurely. Follow all your healthcare provider's instructions carefully so that your baby is born as healthy as possible.Learn more about the symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), how you can protect your family, and how Nationwide Children's Hospital is preparing. If you're at high risk of having a preterm birth, you can give it to your doctor's office even if you don't have

symptoms of childbirth

. It is important to be aware of all potential risks associated with preterm labor so that you can take steps to ensure that your baby is born as healthy as possible.

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