Even if you have a healthy pregnancy, you
may go into
preterm labor. It is hard to prevent preterm
labor because it is usually not anticipated. Also, it is often due to causes
that are not completely understood. But building some
healthy pregnancy habits may help
prevent preterm labor and will optimize your fetus's health and ability to
thrive, whether at full term or preterm.
Being pregnant with
twins, triplets, or more puts you at high risk for preterm labor and infant
complications. If you are planning to use
assisted reproductive technology or
superovulation to conceive, talk to your doctor about
reducing your risk of conceiving more than one baby. For more information, see
Fertility Problems and
Multiple Pregnancy: Twins or More.
Contractions are a normal
part of all pregnancies. Most contractions do not thin and open the cervix.
Rather, they are simply a brief stimulation of the uterine muscle. This can
happen when your fetus is moving a lot, when your bladder or bowel is full, or
when you are dehydrated. These non-labor contractions are irregularly timed and
uncomfortable rather than painful.
Preterm labor contractions
tend to be regularly timed, becoming more frequent, painful, and prolonged (30
to 60 seconds) as they progress. You may also notice low back pain, thigh pain,
or increased vaginal discharge or bleeding.
If you are less than
37 weeks pregnant and your uterus is contracting more than usual (about 4 or
more in 20 minutes or about 8 or more within 1 hour), the following steps may
stop your contractions:
- Drink 2 or 3 glasses of water or juice (not having enough
liquids can cause contractions).
- Stop what you are doing, empty your bladder, and lie down on
your left side for at least an hour.
If your symptoms get worse during the hour, call your
doctor or nurse-midwife or go to the hospital.
If you are at risk for preterm labor
If you have
had a spontaneous preterm birth before, you are probably at high risk for
another preterm labor. This might make you a candidate for weekly
progesterone injections for preventing preterm labor and delivery. No fetal or newborn harm has been observed,
though ongoing research is needed to rule out long-term side effects.8
You may be able to help prevent
preterm labor if you are at risk (see the What Increases Your Risk section of
this topic). Avoid activities that can start contractions, such as smoking.