Posted on 4 April 2017
Going into labour prematurely can be terrifying, not least because of the many misconceptions about it. Dr Almero Viljoen a gynaecologist and obstetrician at Mediclinic George busts the top five myths about premature labour.
Myth 1: Stress and exercise can cause premature labour
Most of the causes of premature labour are not known. It could be familial, meaning that the women in your family have a history of premature labour. Women who have had operations on their cervix, previous premature labours, or are expecting multiples are also more likely to go into labour early.
Sometimes premature labour is brought on by bladder infections, kidney infections or fevers, but most often no cause is found. Scientifically speaking, there are no specific foods or supplements known to cause premature labour, but a few medications definitely do and are marked as having that effect.
Myth 2: Premature labour can be stopped only once
There is no real limit, but if the labour can’t successfully be stopped within a few days, delivery is sometimes inevitable. Several medications can be used to relax the uterus and stop contractions. However, once labour gets to a certain point it becomes difficult to halt.
Myth 3: Bed rest is required to combat premature labour
Bed rest makes no difference to premature labour. If you suspect you are having contractions, you need to see your gynaecologist or go to the labour ward as soon as possible so they can check whether your cervix is dilating (shortening and lengthening) in preparation for birth. Should you be experiencing premature labour, you will be admitted to hospital until it is suppressed.
The first line of treatment for premature labour is usually a drug for high blood pressure called Nifedipine, which relaxes the uterus. This is given every 30 minutes until contractions settle or a maximum dose is achieved.
In addition, doctors usually prescribe an anti-inflammatory suppository that helps to stop the premature labour process. There is also a 48-hour intravenous treatment called Atosiban that blocks oxytocin, the hormone that causes contractions, but it is very expensive (about R3 000 for 24 hours).
Myth 4: Going into labour before your due date is always dangerous
Premature labour is defined as labour that occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Labour that starts after 37 weeks is not considered premature. In the case of premature labour, steroid injections are administered to improve the baby’s maturity and can decrease complications dramatically.
Myth 5: You should not experience any contractions or discomfort before your due date
There is a type of uterine contraction called Braxton Hicks that can occur later in pregnancy and works to prepare or strengthen a mother’s muscles for labour. Braxton Hicks contractions are different from labour contractions in that they don’t progress. In other words, Braxton Hicks contractions don’t get stronger or closer together. Any progressive contractions or contractions accompanied by a mucous discharge or blood should be seen to by your labour ward or gynaecologist.