I want to open up about my pregnancy in my next few blogs. This is very difficult for me, but I think it’s important to share my experience in hopes that it prevents at least one person going through what I went through. This is going to be a very honest perspective of preterm labor symptoms from my experience.
My pregnancy was definitely not smooth sailing: I was put on bed rest at 28 weeks. Before that, I was put on bed rest temporarily at 20 weeks. I wish I could say it was a complete surprise, however, it was not. My preterm labor symptoms were present and I had the risk factors leading up to the moment.
A lot of people do not know that I struggled throughout my pregnancy. In the beginning, the symptoms were common: nausea, lightheadedness, heartburn, weight loss — you name it. So when I entered my third trimester and started feeling cramping pains, I didn’t think much of it. What I didn’t know was that I was actually experiencing was preterm labor symptoms.
Like many others, I brushed it off and assumed they were Braxton Hicks.
It’s very common to experience Braxton Hicks contractions between your second and third trimester. Also known as “false contractions”, these symptoms can be easily confused with real labor. If you haven’t already, you can check out my post here on the differences between Braxton Hicks and Preterm Labor. I include some helpful graphics and a checklist that will help you determine if what you are experiencing is real labor. If you suspect you may be going into labor, especially before 34 weeks, call your doctor immediately.
Preterm Labor Risk Factors
You need to know the preterm labor risk factors in advance. That way, you’ll be more likely to recognize your symptoms early.
Here are a few risk factors in your everyday life that can lead to preterm labor:
- Having a lot of stress
- Working long hours
- Pushing your body too far
- Exposure to secondhand smoke, pollution, paint, etc
- Extreme weight gain or weight loss
I did not know it at the time, but I unknowingly had a few of the preterm labor risk factors listed above that contributed to my early labor.
Preterm Labor: My Story
When I first found out I was pregnant, my fiance was instantly happy. We were in an ideal situation: We owned our own home, both had steady jobs and we even had an empty room that could be converted into a nursery. We had discussed what we would do if this ever happened, so my fiance was at peace with the situation.
I, on the other hand, took a lot longer to process the situation — a few months to be exact. And I felt terrible about it: Why was I so scared? Why wasn’t I as excited as everyone around me? The more time went on, the guiltier I was.
I later realized that a lot of my stress had to do with my work situation.
I was very career-oriented and putting in long hours in order to show my long-term commitment to my employers. I felt like I had invested so much time “paying my dues” that the idea of changing my lifestyle so dramatically was hard for me to wrap my mind around. I always had the freedom to stay late, accommodate an unpredictable schedule, and attend last-minute unplanned work events. I did not want to be that person who could never participate with the rest of my coworkers.
Here’s where I went wrong:
The fact of the matter is, I was pregnant and that was not going to change. However, I continued to go about my routine as if I weren’t pregnant.
Sure, I was taking my prenatal vitamins every day and going to my scheduled doctor’s appointments. But whenever I was needed at work, I would be there. If that meant working until 10 pm or canceling my Valentine’s Day dinner plans for a work emergency, I did it. I did it and I didn’t think twice.
I was continuing to add more and more stress to my life and my body eventually couldn’t handle it. Instead of gaining weight I was losing weight. My doctor recommended a meal plan and even got my fiance involved to make sure I was following it. But if I couldn’t follow the plan while I was at work during the day, it wouldn’t matter how strict I was at home.
And it showed.
I continued to steadily lose weight at each appointment — and then came my first scare.
When I was around 20 weeks pregnant, I went in for my scheduled ultrasound. The baby was on the smaller side, but still within the normal, healthy range.
After taking all of the fun photos showing the gender and his profile came the anatomy scans. Everything looked good and normal until it came to the heart and lungs. The ultrasound technician looked at my gestation date and then back at his heart and lungs. They weren’t as developed as they should be at 20 weeks.
And then came all of my previous red flags: the steady weight loss, the stress at work, pushing my body too far, not eating frequently enough — all of those factors were risk factors.
My wakeup call
My doctor sent me home for a week of bed rest to force me to reduce my stress and follow a strict meal plan that would not be interrupted by work. I remember even then feeling guilty. I tried to negotiate less than a week to accommodate my busy work schedule. We were in a major point of transition at work, and at the time I was not able to delegate my workload to anyone else. Looking back now, that makes me cringe. I was putting everyone else around me first over myself.
I took the entire week off and continued to work from home. I thought this would be a good tradeoff in exchange for taking so much time off. At this point, I had never used a vacation day or even a full sick day without being available at all times or working from home.
When I went back to work a week later, I felt better and even started to gain weight over the next few weeks. I went out of my way to try to reduce stress at work and not push myself as much physically.
But the reality of the situation is that trying isn’t good enough. If everything and everyone around you continues the same, you are going to have the same results.
Fast forward two months and I was 28 weeks pregnant, finally in my third trimester. I went to work as usual, but I started to feel these weird cramps — almost like period cramps. They continued on the rest of the day, some more painful than others. I had assumed it was the weight or gravity of the baby applying pressure and didn’t think much of it. I went home that night and my fiance was very concerned. He asked me to call my doctor the next morning and explain what was going on, just for peace of mind.
I went to work the next morning and called my doctor. I explained that I was having some light cramping, but not too frequently. For the next few hours, she wanted me to document the time on a piece of paper every time I felt a cramp.
It wasn’t until I actually began writing it down that I realized how frequent they were. I had assumed that I was only having a few cramps a day, however, I was so distracted at work that I didn’t notice what was going on with my body.
I called my doctor back before noon and began reading the times to her. She cut me off before I was able to finish and told me to come in immediately.
When I got to my doctor’s office, I was hooked up to an external monitor for the first time. If you’re not familiar, the machine has two bands: one band will measure the fetal heartbeat, and the other will measure uterine contractions. Once you start having contractions and go to the hospital, this machine will be used to monitor how far apart your contractions are.
At the time, I didn’t even think I was having contractions. I kept calling them “cramps” and couldn’t fathom anything else.
I was monitored for around 30 minutes with my doctor coming in for time to time to monitor the results. She pulled the papers and showed me the graph. There it was: I was having contractions, and there were the spikes to show it. I couldn’t ignore it any longer — I was having preterm labor contractions.
I went to the hospital and called my fiance. We were there for another 8 hours while hooked up to another external monitor. I was given three rounds of a shot that relaxes the uterus in an attempt to slow and stop the contractions. I sincerely hope that you never have to experience this.
The physical side effects were a scary experience for my fiance to witness. My heart rate was extremely high, I was shaking and shivering, short of breath, dizzy and lightheaded.
After a few hours, my contractions began to slow and then stopped completely. I was then given two rounds of steroids that help speed the development of the baby’s lungs in the event that he was born prematurely.
I am extremely thankful that my contractions were able to be stopped. I am also thankful that my fiance, as well as my doctor, took my symptoms seriously.
You may have a physician that downplays your symptoms. I’ve certainly had a few experiences with that in the past, and I believe a lot of people have. However, it’s not always their fault: if you are not relaying your symptoms in complete honesty, how can they properly treat you?
I downplayed my symptoms and was lucky enough to have a doctor who saw past that and took the time to be safe.
As a result of my preterm labor symptoms, I was labeled as high-risk and prescribed the Progesterone for the rest of my pregnancy. Progesterone is a hormone that your body produces during early pregnancy. It’s sometimes prescribed as a treatment to prevent premature birth because it keeps your uterus from having contractions.
Not surprisingly, I was also put on bed rest for the rest of my pregnancy. This time I had NO resistance.
What can you take from this?
It may seem obvious that I was putting myself on a path to preterm labor, but the signs are very easy to miss. This is especially the case if you are like me and lead a very fast-paced life pre-pregnancy. Many of us push ourselves to be the best and are afraid to let down those around us.
As I’m writing this now, I am 40 weeks pregnant and very happy. I was able to actually enjoy the rest of my pregnancy and both my son and me are healthy. I am amazed and thankful every day that I was able to make it to full-term.
It is very difficult to open up and be honest about my story. I constantly blamed myself for not seeing the signs. But if I can help one person resonate with this story or see the risks in their own life, then this is completely worth it.
Do you have a preterm labor story? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.