What Causes Premature Birth?

Preterm labor or premature labor is a situation when your body starts getting ready for delivery too early in your pregnancy. Too early may refer to the start of labor more than three weeks before your due date. Going into premature labor does not automatically imply that you will have a premature baby. Statistics show that about half of the women who experience premature labor deliver at 37 weeks or even after that. Only 12% of babies in the U.S. are born prematurely.

What Causes Premature Birth?

The exact reason is not clear, but that may happen due to a number of factors. These factors trigger your uterus to contract and your cervix to dilate before your due date. Here is more about those factors.

1. Smoking and Alcohol Abuse

Excessive consumption of alcohol, drug use, and smoking are some of those behaviors that not just increase your risk of miscarriage, but also make premature labor a possibility. You load your body up with toxins through smoking and drug use and these toxins affect your baby by crossing the placenta.

2. Not Enough Space Between Pregnancies

If you become pregnant within 18 months of delivering your last baby, you are an increased risk of experiencing premature labor. Statistics show that 20% of women who do not wait at least a year between pregnancies deliver before 37 weeks.

3. Pregnancy Complications

An early delivery is a possibility when you have pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and excessive amniotic fluid. Problems with the placenta, such as placental abruption and placenta previa, may also cause premature birth.

4. Uterine and Vaginal Infections

What causes premature birth? Sexually transmitted diseases like Trichomoniasis or bacterial infections like bacterial vaginosis may play a role in causing premature birth. These infections are responsible for half of all preterm births, which is mainly due to the inflammation these conditions cause. Untreated urinary tract infections may also cause similar complications.

5. Problems with the Uterus or Cervix

It becomes difficult to carry a baby to full term when your uterus is extremely large, malformed, or has any other structural abnormality. Having an incompetent cervix may also lead to similar problems.

6. Gum Infections

You are more likely to deal with periodontal disease during pregnancy, mainly due to pregnancy hormones, but the disease may also contribute to premature birth. It happens when the inflammation-causing bacteria enter your bloodstream and reach the fetus. Gum infections can also trigger your immune system that increases inflammation in the body, including the uterus and cervix, which may in turn trigger early labor.

7. Stress

It is natural to find yourself under stress several times during pregnancy, which is mainly due to raging hormones, but you are at greater risk of having premature birth if you are exposed to severe emotional stress. In this case, stress triggers the release of hormones that may lead to labor contractions. Similarly, extreme physical stress may make you deal with similar complications.

8. Age and Carrying Multiples

You are more likely to deliver early when you have multiples instead of singletons. You are at a greater risk of delivering prematurely if you become pregnant before 17 years of age or after 35 years of age.

9. History of Preterm Labor

A previous preterm labor is what causes premature birth in many cases. It means you are more likely to deliver prematurely if you have had the same experience in the past.

Keep in mind that having these risk factors does not guarantee premature birth, but it becomes more important for you to work with your healthcare provider to complete your pregnancy in a healthy way.

What to Do If I Am at High Risk

When you have the risk factors above, it makes sense to work with your healthcare provider and take other steps to lower risk of premature birth. Here is what you can do.

Lifestyle Changes

You have to make some lifestyle changes and take good care of yourself to lower your risk of delivering prematurely. Be sure to take plenty of rest and start your prenatal care as early as possible. Stop smoking and other unhealthy habits and meditate to keep stress under control. Sticking to a healthy diet is equally important to ensure a full-term pregnancy. It also helps to see a specialist to keep things under control. At the same time, you need to understand that there will be changes in your body as your pregnancy progresses. Work with your doctor and spend some quite time each day to learn more about your body. Do not ignore any unusual pressures or aches when you have a high-risk pregnancy.

Progesterone Treatment

If you have had premature labor in the past and delivered before 34 weeks, work with your doctor and start progesterone treatment. This involves taking injections of a progesterone compound called Makena from 16 weeks to 20 weeks. You have to continue these injections through 36 weeks again to lower your risk of a repeat preterm delivery.

Watch for the Signs of Premature Birth

Now that you know what causes premature birth, you also need to know the signs of preterm labor to be able to seek immediate medical attention. If spotted early, your doctor may make use of corticosteroids to help speed up the development of your baby's lungs before you deliver. Here are some of the most common signs of preterm labor:

  • You will have more vaginal discharge than before.
  • There may be a change in the consistency of vaginal fluid – it may have watery, mucus-like consistency.
  • You may have vaginal spotting or bleeding.
  • You may experience more pressure in your pelvic area with abdominal pain.
  • You may experience menstrual-like cramping with four contractions in one hour.
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