Preterm labor refers to the dilation of your cervix occurring during 20 - 37 weeks of pregnancy due to regular uterus contractions.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Preterm birth is defined as any childbirth occurring between 20 to 37 weeks of pregnancy, while Early term occurs between 37 - 38 weeks and Full-term occurs between 39 - 40 weeks.

What causes preterm labor?

There are a lot of factors that can contribute to preterm labor, it’s therefore hard to diagnose the definitive reason for it. But here are some risk factors that you can look out for:

  • Smoking, drinking, and drug use: Not only does smoking, drinking or drug use increase your chances of miscarriage and preterm birth, it can also affect the health of your little one immensely. Besides the toxins in your cigarette, smoking is known for narrowing your blood vessels which can result in oxygen deprivation in your baby. Drinking, on the other hand, can interfere with your baby’s development, cause birth defects, and even induce Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) in the worst scenario.
  • Chronic illnesses: High blood pressure, diabetes, depression or autoimmune diseases
  • Bacterial/Viral Infections: Infections in the uterus, amniotic fluid, the genital tract, and urinary tract are associated with nearly 50% of all preterm births. Researchers believe that the inflammatory response triggers the release of prostaglandins, which is a substance that initiates labor when you are full term.
  • Physiological Conditions of the Uterus or Cervix: A shortened cervix or irregularly shaped uterus can increase the risks of preterm labor. It can be more challenging to carry the baby to full term with those conditions when your uterus struggles to contain the baby and your cervix struggles to stay closed during pregnancy.
  • Medical Complications: Preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, placental abruption or having excessive amniotic fluid can all increase the likelihood of preterm delivery.
  • Maternal Age: Women under 17 years old or older than 40 years old can have a higher chance of miscarriage or preterm labor. You can be subjected to a high-risk pregnancy if you are outside the age range of 17-40 when you give birth.
  • Previous Preterm Births: Mums who have had preterm deliveries previously can have a higher risk of having a subsequent preterm birth for your future babies.
  • If you’ve had your previous delivery no longer than 18 months ago: Mums who are pregnant again within a year from your previous childbirth can experience a higher potential of developing preterm birth. It is recommended to fully rest for at least 12 months before you get conceived again.
  • If you are pregnant with twins, triplets, or multiples: Mums who undergo infertility treatments are more likely to be pregnant with multiples due to the inducing nature of the treatments. Whether you have had treatment or not, carrying multiples can mean extra weight on your uterus and cervix, which leads to higher risks of preterm labor.

How can you prevent premature birth?

Here are some preventative measures that can help reduce the chances of preterm delivery. They are ways to keep your baby stable till full term so you can follow them even if you’re not at risk for preterm birth.

  • Eat healthy foods: Keeping a healthy diet is key to ensure your baby’s development at all stages of pregnancy. Studies have shown that an adequate intake of Omega-3 and other polyunsaturated fatty acids can reduce the risks of preterm labor and help with your baby’s brain development. They can be found in fish, nuts, seeds - namely salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, and DHA eggs. Healthy consumption of vitamin C and calcium can also be helpful as prevention.
  • Drink lots of water: Stay hydrated to keep up your circulation and decrease the chances of infection.
  • Be vitamin-rich: The daily recommended amount of vitamin that pregnant mums should consume are higher to account for the growing fetus in your belly. Make sure to take note of the recommended amount and consume enough to ensure your overall health. You should also take in enough folic acid that can lower the risk of placental abruption and preeclampsia, the 2 factors that contribute to premature births.
  • Stay away from toxic substances: Quit smoking, drinking, or unrecommended drug use for your baby’s health.
  • Pregnancy Spacing: Plan your pregnancies at least 12 months apart from each other.
  • Visit your doctor regularly: Make sure that you consult your doctor regularly about any health concerns or discomfort you experience during pregnancy. Receiving advice early in your pregnancy can help you adjust your lifestyle earlier and better prepare for potential risks.

Read more about Preterm Birth 101: How to Care for Your Preterm Baby?