Preterm Labor=Premature Birth
Some women are at risk for preterm labor, especially if they have had a previous preterm labor or birth, or have had a multiple pregnancy. Adequate prenatal care can often help prevent a preterm event, and if you are at risk your doctor will want to see you more frequently.
What Happens If The Preterm Labor Doesn't Stop?
If preterm labor is inevitable the doctor will check to see if there is dilation of the cervix and if the membranes have ruptured. Contractions will be closely monitored and if, indeed, preterm labor is happening there may be discussion as to the risks and benefits of trying to halt the progress of the labor. A preterm labor and premature birth bring with it a variety of possible complications.
A preterm labor is like normal labor, it has just begun too early. It is the treatment to stop the labor which may involve risk. Medications which are used to stop uterine contractions can have side effects such as breathing difficulties, fatigue and muscle weakness. Other side effects of such medicines are rapid heartbeat, headaches, dizziness, nausea or abnormalities in blood sugar levels. These risks have to be weighed against the potential risks to the baby if he or she is born early.
Risks To The Premature Baby
There have been babies born as early as 23 weeks gestations and they have survived. Nevertheless, the younger the baby is at time of birth, the greater the risk to the baby's health and life. Serious complications can arise for a premature baby such as breathing difficulties and apnea (breathing stops). Bleeding in the brain or the collection of fluid on the brain are also dangers. Neurological problems, difficulties with sight and intestinal difficulties are frequent risks. The baby can also experience developmental delays and learning disabilities as a result of being born too early. Although jaundice, anemia and low blood pressure are considered less serious, they can affect the baby adversely.
Trying To Halt The Preterm Labor Process
Treatment for a woman experiencing preterm labor depends upon the stage of pregnancy and the advancement of the labor itself. Sometimes rest is all that is needed to halt the process. If the cervix is opening but there are no contractions, then the physician may perform a cervical cerclage, stitching the cervix closed using strong sutures which will be removed in the last month of pregnancy. Certain drugs which are designed to block the substances that cause uterine contractions can be administered by intravenous or injection. While they do work, often the treatment is short-lived. If the pregnancy is very early, between 23 and 24 weeks, the doctor may inject a very strong steroid to cause the baby's lungs to develop more quickly.
Treating The Premature Baby
Newborn premature babies are given round-the-clock care in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) of hospitals. Doubtless the baby will be in an incubator to be kept warm and sensors will be attached to the baby to monitor vital signs. Breathing apparatus and other high-tech equipment looks overwhelming and intimidating, but it is all there to help the baby. Nutrients may be given by intravenous initially because often a premature baby is unable to suck. After a time, mother's milk may be administered through a tube into the baby's stomach and this may continue until such time as the baby is able to nurse.
Once the baby is breathing on his or her own, is eating and gaining weight and is able to stay warm, baby can go home.