You might not be able to prevent preterm labor — but there's much you can do to promote a healthy, full-term pregnancy. For example:

  • Seek regular prenatal care. Prenatal visits can help your health care provider monitor your health and your baby's health. Mention any signs or symptoms that concern you, even if you think they're silly or unimportant. If you have a history of preterm labor or develop signs or symptoms of preterm labor, you might need to see your health care provider more often during pregnancy for exams and tests.
  • Eat a healthy diet. During pregnancy, you'll need more folic acid, calcium, iron and other essential nutrients. A daily prenatal vitamin — ideally starting a few months before conception — can help fill any gaps.
  • Avoid risky substances. If you smoke, quit. Smoking might trigger preterm labor. Illicit drugs are off-limits, too.

    In addition, medications of any type — even those available over-the-counter — deserve caution. Get your health care provider's OK before taking any medications or supplements.

  • Consider pregnancy spacing. Some research suggests a link between pregnancies spaced less than six months apart and an increased risk of premature birth. Consider talking to your health care provider about pregnancy spacing.
  • Be cautious when using assisted reproductive technology (ART). If you're planning to use ART to get pregnant, consider how many embryos will be implanted. Multiple pregnancies carry a higher risk of preterm labor.

If your health care provider determines that you're at increased risk of preterm labor, he or she might recommend taking additional steps to reduce your risk, such as:

  • Taking preventive medications. If you have a history of premature birth, your health care provider might suggest weekly shots of a form of the hormone progesterone called hydroxyprogesterone caproate (Makena) during your second trimester. In addition, new research shows that treatment with a vaginal progesterone gel during the second and third trimesters might decrease the risk of premature birth in women who have short cervixes. These findings have encouraged doctors to pay closer attention to the length of the cervix in women with risk factors for preterm birth and in those who appear to have a shortened cervix on a routine ultrasound.
  • Limiting certain physical activities. If you're at risk of preterm labor or develop signs or symptoms of preterm labor, your health care provider might suggest avoiding heavy lifting or spending too much time on your feet.
  • Managing chronic conditions. Certain conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, increase the risk of preterm labor. Work with your health care provider to keep any chronic conditions under control.

If you have a history of preterm labor or premature birth, you're at risk of a subsequent preterm labor. Work with your health care provider to manage any risk factors and respond to early warning signs and symptoms.

Dec. 04, 2014