What is a preterm labor?
Expecting a baby is always a happy and exciting step on a woman's life, however even when it's a natural process, it's not risk free; and perhaps one of the main fears of every pregnant woman is preterm labor.
A normal pregnancy lasts between 37 and 40 weeks, being that the required time to allow the baby to complete development and grow enough to face extra uterine life challenges, so if a pregnancy does not achieve such time, there's serious risks of complications and even baby's death.
On this regard, a labor is considered preterm when it occurs before the 37 gestation week.
Preterm labor must be clearly differentiated from miscarriage. Usually miscarriages occur during the fetal stage of pregnancy, that means during the 1st trimester when the fetus is not completely developed, does not resemble a baby at all and is unable to face life outside the womb because its body is not completely developed, so miscarriages always end with the baby's dead.
On the other hand, preterm labor occurs late on the 2nd trimester or early on the 3rd trimester but before week 37; on this regard, the earliest the labor, higher the risks but there's still chances for the baby to survive, especially if the pregnancy extends for a few more weeks, so all efforts must be made to prolong pregnancy as much as possible when a preterm labor occurs.
Preterm labor may be due to multiple factors, being the most common: infections (viral mom's infections as well urinary infections), more than one baby, premature membranes rupture as well many other obstetric conditions.
When a baby bornes because of a preterm labor is called "premature" even when not all premature babies were borne due to a preterm labor; instead, there are medical maternal conditions such as treatment refractory preclampsia, eclampsia, premature placental ageing and placental detachment that could force an emergency, premature birth (usually through C section).
Despite of being of a premature birth, on this cases it's not correct to talk about preterm labor, especially because preterm labors may be stopped or at least delayed, while preterm births due to maternal medical conditions are usually emergencies requiring to interrupt pregnancy as such as possible.
In order to delay/stop preterm labor, doctors will treat the cause -if possible as in the case of urinary infections- and will indicate "tocolitic" agents as well bed rest for the expecting mom.
Tocolitic agents are drugs intended to stop uterine contractions in order to stop labor and give the baby enough time to complete its development. Meanwhile the medical team will proceed accordingly in order to diminish the chances of premature birth complications in case it occurs.
If you wish to know a little bit more about preterm birth complications, wait for our next post, but remember that the best thing is to prevent preterm labor and to do so, regular obstetric control is mandatory as well strictly accomplishment of medical indications.
Keep in mind that everything your caregiver indicates, is for you and your baby well being.
In case efforts to stop a preterm labor are not capable to do it, learn more about preterm babies on our next post.