Preterm labour screening is offered to pregnant women at risk of preterm delivery. Here’s why it’s important.
You’re in the middle of a winning customer presentation. You’re brandishing slides and statistics and doing a swell job. You’ve got this, you think. Only, as you finish with a flourish, and shake hands to seal the deal, you’re greeted by a flood of warm fluid down your trousers in a congratulatory ode to your successful pitch. As if somehow, your baby decided it was time to make an early exit to join in the celebrations.
But oh, the timing.
If you’ve experienced preterm labour, you know the feeling. If you haven’t and have a little one on the way, it’s worth going through this trusty little guide.
What Is Preterm Labour?
Preterm labour pertains to regular uterine contractions and resultant changes in the cervix before 37 weeks of gestation. Cervical changes such as effacement and dilation can lead to premature birth (defined as birth between 20 and 37 weeks of gestation). While you may find the prospect of meeting your baby sooner than expected exciting, the truth is, there are significant risks associated with preterm birth. Babies born too early are usually underdeveloped and may have lifelong health and developmental problems like cerebral palsy and learning disabilities. The highest risk of health problems occurs in babies born before 34 weeks, although babies born between 34 and 37 weeks may also suffer from preterm health issues.
What Are the Risk Factors For Preterm Labour?
Some women are more susceptible to preterm labour than others. Risk factors include:
- Prior preterm deliveries
- Short cervix
- The short interval between pregnancies
- Prior surgeries on the uterus or cervix
- Multiple pregnancies
- Vaginal bleeding through pregnancy
- Smoking and substance abuse during pregnancy
- Low pre-pregnancy weight
What Are the Signs & Symptoms Of Preterm Labour?
Your body’s pretty intelligent at passing messages from your baby to you. Here are some signs and symptoms that your baby might be looking to make an early entry, earth-side:
- The appearance of watery, bloody or mucous vaginal discharge
- Excessive vaginal discharge
- Pelvic or abdominal heaviness
- Persistent, dull backache
- Mild abdominal cramps
- Regular uterine tightening, with or without pain
- Ruptured membranes (a gush or trickle of fluid as your water breaks)
Read More: Signs and Symptoms of Preterm Labour
Are There Any Prenatal Screening Tools For Preterm Labour?
Why, yes there are! If your doctor thinks you might be at risk of preterm labour, you may be recommended special screenings to gauge your risk. Here are the three main prenatal screening tools.
Risk Factor Assessment
Your risk of preterm labour can be qualitatively assessed at your first prenatal visit. Your doctor may ask you questions about your medical history, prior deliveries and current health conditions before preparing a risk profile.
At around 22 weeks of pregnancy, your doctor may test for fetal fibronectin (FFN) in your vaginal discharge, by swabbing your cervix or vagina. FFN binds the amniotic sac to the uterine lining and appears in cervical secretions at about 22 weeks. However, FFN in the outer cervix could be an indication of impending preterm labour. It’s important to remember this test is not diagnostic. This means the presence of FFN is not a true predictor of preterm labour. Its absence, conversely, can be taken as a sign of low risk, implying that you are unlikely to go into labour anytime soon.
The length of your cervix, measured via ultrasound, may hold a mirror to your risk of preterm labour. A shortened cervix is a sign of cervical effacement, putting you at a higher risk of preterm delivery. Changes in your cervix may prompt your doctor to conduct a pelvic exam to diagnose preterm labour.
If you have had a prior preterm birth or come under the high-risk category for preterm labour, it’s vital that you’re regular with your doctor’s appointments, especially as you approach your due date. With the right prenatal care and treatment, you can offset the chances of preterm delivery and give your baby the best chance of a healthy start to life.
Must Read: The Labour Lookbook