Premature labor occurs in about 12% of all pregnancies. However, by knowing the symptoms and avoiding particular risk factors, a woman can reduce her chance of going into labor prematurely. A normal pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks. Occasionally, labor begins prematurely, before the 37th week of pregnancy. This happens because uterine contractions cause the cervix to open earlier than normal. Consequently, the baby is born premature and can be at risk for health problems
What are risk factors for preterm birth?
Factors that increase the risk of preterm birth include the following:
- Having a previous preterm birth
- Having a short cervix
- Short interval between pregnancies
- History of certain types of surgery on the uterus or cervix
- Certain pregnancy complications, such as multiple pregnancy and vaginal bleeding
- Lifestyle factors such as low prepregnancy weight, smoking during pregnancy, and substance abuse during pregnancy.
Warning signs and symptoms of premature labor include:
- Five or more uterine contractions in an hour
- Watery fluid leaking from your vagina (this could indicate that your water has broken)
- Menstrual-like cramps in the lower abdomen that can come and go or be constant
- Low, dull backache felt below the waistline that may come and go or be constant
- Pelvic pressure that feels like your baby is pushing down
- Abdominal cramps that may occur with or without diarrhea
- Increase or change in vaginal discharge
Most premature babies outgrow the need for specialized medical care by the time they leave the hospital. But if your baby has periods of apnea (pauses in breathing) or other breathing problems, you may need to use special monitors at home or give your baby supplemental oxygen. The doctor will explain how to monitor your baby’s breathing and what to do in case of an emergency.
Parents of preemies are often encouraged or even required to learn infant cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Knowing that you can restore your child’s breathing if needed can help you feel more confident in your ability to care for your baby.
Most premature babies can breast-feed by the time they’re sent home. You’ll probably feed your baby as often as any newborn every two to three hours at first. Expect your baby to be satisfied after each feeding and wet six to eight diapers a day. If your baby can’t take in enough breast milk or formula on his or her own, you may need to help with a feeding tube and a syringe. Frequent pumping can help you maintain your milk supply until your baby is ready to breast-feed.
Encouraging good sleep
Undisturbed periods of sleep are important especially for preemies. Unless your baby’s doctor has given you other instructions, always place your baby to sleep on his or her back. This reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Your baby’s immune system isn’t fully developed making him or her susceptible to infections. To keep your baby healthy, limit outings with the baby as much as possible. Avoid taking your baby to restaurants, stores or other public places. If the doctor’s office is crowded, ask to wait in an examining room instead of the main waiting room. At home, separate your baby from anyone who has a cold or other infection. Make sure visitors wash their hands before holding the baby, and don’t allow anyone to smoke inside the house.
Bonding with your baby
Skin-to-skin contact also known as kangaroo care can enhance parent-child bonding and promote your baby’s development. In a warm room, dress your baby in only a diaper and hold him or her against your bare chest.
Turn your baby’s head to the side so that his or her ear is over your heart. You may also wrap up together in a robe or large shirt that opens in the front. Monitoring your baby’s growth and development, and frequent checkups will help the doctor monitor your baby’s growth and development and identify any special needs. As your baby grows, you may want to ask about early intervention programs designed for children who may be at risk of developmental problems.
Taking care of yourself
Although your baby is healthy enough to live at home, you’re still under a great amount of strain. Taking good care of yourself will help you take the best care of your baby.
Acknowledge your emotions: Expect to feel joy, excitement, sadness, anger and frustration sometimes all on the same day.
Make healthy lifestyle choices: Rest as much as you can, eat healthfully, drink plenty of fluids and find time for exercise. A brisk daily walk can lift your spirits and boost your energy.
Accept help from others: Allow friends and loved ones to care for your other children, prepare food, clean the house or run errands. Let them know what would be most helpful.
Seek support: Surround yourself with understanding friends and loved ones. Consider joining a local support group for parents or check out online communities. Seek professional help if you’re feeling depressed or you’re struggling to cope with your new responsibilities. Your baby will grow and change every day. Take pleasure in each small step your baby makes toward a healthy childhood. If you have any more queries after reading this booklet, please discuss with your doctor.