One in every nine babies in the U.S. is born prematurely, and the subsequent problems associated with pre-term birth account for the majority of infant deaths in the country. In most cases, pre-term labor happens unexpectedly and without warning. If you suspect you might be going into labor, it’s crucial to seek medical care. If you experience the following warning signs, labor may be beginning early.
Contractions and cramps
It’s hard to know for sure if you’re experiencing a contraction, especially if it’s your first baby. A contraction feels like your abdomen is tightening into a fist. Your stomach will be hard to the touch, and there will be a distinct beginning and end to the pain.
Many women experience Braxton Hicks contractions, or “practice” contractions that cause a false alarm. These are irregular and usually subside after a short period of time. However, if you start to feel contractions happening every ten minutes or so, it’s time to call your obstetrician.
Many women also experience cramps similar to menstrual cramps before going into pre-term labor.
If you feel the sensation of the baby “dropping” into your lower pelvic area, it’s often a sign that labor is near. You’ll experience a feeling of pressure on your pelvic area and may feel uncomfortable walking around for too long.
If you’re nearing the home stretch of your pregnancy, back pain may be all too familiar.
However, if you experience a dull or sharp pain in your lower back that doesn’t subside even when you change positions or walk around, it could mean your baby is on its way. The same goes for if you haven’t experienced back pain up until this point in your pregnancy.
Discharge or bleeding
If you experience abnormal vaginal discharge or any type of bleeding, it may signal pre-term labor. Even if it’s a false alarm, this is an important symptom to notify your doctor of.
What Happens Next
Don’t panic! When you call your doctor, he or she will likely advise you to visit the hospital, where they’ll run a series of tests. Doctors will monitor your contractions, check your baby’s heart rate and check the level of amniotic fluid present, among other things.
Based on the results of the tests, your doctor and the hospital staff will determine whether to take measures to delay labor or to deliver early.
Pre-term labor isn’t preventable, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of delivering early. Learn the Top 5 Risk Factors for Premature Birth.
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Source: Centers for Disease Control, Mayo Clinic