labour, premature

Labour that begins between the 28th and 37th week of pregnancy. Because of the dangers threatening a premature baby such a birth should always take place in hospital, increasing the child’s chances of survival. Reasons for premature labour are often not known. One factor is a disorder of the placenta, in which case conditions outside the womb are probably more favourable to the child. Rhesus incompatibility must also be borne in mind, and abnormality or infection in the child. A defect of the cervix and undue stretching of the uterus, caused by hydramnios or a multiple pregnancy, are also possible factors. Premature labour is essentially the same as for a birth at the correct time, although the signs – such as discharge of mucus and blood – are usually greater. The small premature child more often shows abnormalities of presentation (such as breech or occipito posterior). Bed rest and a salt-free diet are the most important and simplest means of decreasing the likelihood of premature birth. Contraction pains can be suppressed by pain control, administered in hospital under supervision by infusion some days before. The disadvantage of this medication is that it can cause unpleasant side-effects such as palpitation, restlessness and trembling. The child will probably be cared for in an incubator for some time after the birth.

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