The pregnancy period of nine months is the most amazing one for a couple expecting to see their dream materializing into a beautiful little bundle of joy. However, it can turn into a nightmare for women who go into labor earlier than expected, and scary as it is in a normal pregnancy, the stakes are higher for the one which has been achieved with assisted reproductive techniques such as IVF.

Being aware about each and every aspect premature labor is essential for every couple and even more so, for those who have become pregnant after a fertility treatment. It can not only help them reduce their chances of undergoing one, but also to handle the same if they actually have to face the situation.

All about Premature Labor

Premature labor is the medical term used for the condition when a woman goes into labor before she is due. The labor is regarded as premature if it begins more the three weeks before the completion of the normal gestation period (40 weeks is regarded as the normal). Premature labor can result in early birth, which can lead to a number of complications for the mother and the baby. Though advancement of medical science has enabled doctors to arrest premature birth in many cases, sometimes they are helpless against nature and have to look for ways to help the premature baby survive and grow into a healthy one.

What are the risk factors of premature labor?

Though doctors have been unable to attribute any definite causes to the occurrence of premature labor, certain conditions can be seen as culprits for putting women at risk of early labor. These include the following:

  • A previous premature delivery
  • Lifestyle issues such as stress, excessive  smoking, drug abuse and alcoholism
  • Birth defects in the baby
  • Conditions like gestational hypertension and gestational diabetes
  • Premature rupture of amniotic sac
  • Infection in the genital tract
  • Multiple pregnancy
  • Obesity, or being underweight
  • Lack of good prenatal care
  • Medical complications such as placenta previa, cervical incompetence and structural problem with the uterus
  • Small gap between consecutive pregnancies

Signs and Symptoms of Premature Labor

A woman should be aware of the symptoms of premature labor because a stitch in time can literally save nine in this case. If action is taken in time, premature birth can be avoided by medical intervention. Here are the warning bells that need to be taken seriously:

  • Pain in the lower back, which might be intermittent or continuous, and cannot be relieved by resting or changing positions
  • Abdominal cramps, particularly if accompanied by diarrhea or spotting
  • Rupture of water bag, with fluid leaking slowly or in a gush
  • Pelvic or vaginal pressure
  • Vaginal bleeding and/or discharge
  • Regular contractions, which are intensifying and coming closer together with the passage of time

If a pregnant woman is not yet due for delivery, but experiences one or more of these symptoms, she should raise an alarm and see her doctor. False labor is something common but it is better to be safe than sorry.

What next if the woman actually goes into premature labor?

When a woman goes into premature labor, immediate medical intervention is what is required and a hospital is the best place to get it. The gynecologist will test her vital stats such as pulse, temperature and blood pressure, as well as monitor the contractions and heart beat of the baby. Other tests that will verify the chances of premature birth include the physical examination/transvaginal ultrasound to check the cervical dilation and fetal fibronectin exam (a vaginal swab which assesses the possibility of preterm contractions).

The woman diagnosed with premature labor will be administered IV fluids and antibiotics, along with medicines to stop the contractions. Additionally, she will be confined to bed though studies have proved that bed rest cannot change the fate of such a patient. In case, the doctor believes that premature birth is imminent, a medicine is given to accelerate the development of the baby’s lungs.

It is still better to prevent premature birth because preterm babies are at risk to low birth weight, infections and breathing difficulties, as well as long-term health problems such as cerebral palsy, vision and hearing impairment, autism and lung problems. The earlier the delivery takes place, the more are the complications. Moreover, preemies need to be kept in intensive care in NICU so that they can be protected from infections.

How is premature labor linked with IVF?

IVF is a ground breaking fertility treatment which has an exemplary success rate and has been able to bring the gift of parenthood for thousands of couples across the globe. At the same time, there have been certain hitches with the same, one of which is a slightly elevated risk of preterm birth for IVF patients. Being aware of this risk and taking adequate and timely steps to cover it can be a great way to deal with it and actually have a happy IVF pregnancy.

Factors like maternal age, multiple pregnancy, health condition and lifestyle, generally influence the probability of premature labor, whether the pregnancy is natural or through IVF. However, most of the IVF cases have patients are beyond the normal maternal age and are suffering from certain health conditions, which naturally put them in the high risk group. Similarly, the incidence of twins and multiple pregnancies is higher in IVF cases, which again acts as a possible reason. Another reason that is suspected to put IVF pregnancies at premature labor high risk is the fact that the embryo implantation is influenced by the hormones which have been administered to the patient for ovarian stimulation. This increases the chances of the woman going into labor earlier than normal.

The patients and infertility specialists cannot completely eliminate the risk of premature birth completely but it can definitely be reduced by makings sure that the patient follows a healthy lifestyle as well as all the medical conditions have been addressed to before the treatment. Single embryo transfer makes another smart option to bring down this risk.