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Importance of antenatal care to lower preterm labor and birth risk

Preterm labor doesn’t have to but sometimes leads to preterm birth. Infants born preterm – before 37 weeks gestation -have a higher risk of mortality and morbidity, with the risk being the highest in those born before 32 weeks. According to a study conducted by BMC health services in Australia, there is a correlation in better neonatal outcomes after preterm birth in privately insured women than in publicly insured women. While the study was conducted in Australia, it shows that having private pregnancy insurance cover can increase the chances of a preterm birthed baby to survive, while recovering in the NICU unit.

Preterm labor vs preterm birth 

According to the WHO, every year, an estimated 15 million babies are born preterm worldwide, with most cases occurring in third world countries. However, despite Dubai’s excellent healthcare facilities, and obligatory maternity and newborn health insurance regulations, preterm births is also an issue here.

Preterm labor is defined as regular contractions of the uterus, resulting in changes in the cervix that starts before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Changes in the cervix include effacement (the cervix thins out) and dilation (the cervix opens so that the fetus can enter the birth canal). In some cases, preterm labor can lead to a baby being born too soon.

Women experiencing preterm labor don’t necessarily have to have a preterm birth. Only about 1 in 10 women with preterm labor will give birth within the next 7 days. For about 3 in 10 women, preterm labor stops on its own.

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Preterm labor causes

Preterm labor and preterm birth occur for a variety of reasons, and while it often happens without one single reason, there are common risk factors which include:

  • Having a previous preterm birth
  • Having a short cervix
  • Short time between pregnancies
  • History of certain types of surgery on the uterus or cervix
  • Certain pregnancy complications, such as multiple pregnancy and vaginal bleeding
  • Infections and chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure
  • Lifestyle factors such as low prepregnancy weight, smoking during pregnancy, and substance abuse during pregnancy

What are the signs of preterm labor?

Most common signs and symptoms of preterm labor include:

  • Regular or frequent sensations of abdominal tightening (contractions)
  • Constant low, dull backache
  • A sensation of pelvic or lower abdominal pressure
  • Mild abdominal cramps
  • Vaginal spotting or light bleeding
  • Preterm rupture of membranes — in a gush or a continuous trickle of fluid after the membrane around the baby breaks or tears
  • A change in the type of vaginal discharge — watery, mucus-like or bloody

How to check for preterm labor?

A pregnant woman experiencing these symptoms should immediately contact her healthcare provider. An obstetrician or other healthcare professional may perform certain exams and tests to determine if a woman is having preterm labor. Most common ways to check for preterm labor include: 

Pelvic exam. The doctor might evaluate the firmness and tenderness of the uterus and the baby’s size and position. If the woman’s water hasn’t broken and there’s no concern that the placenta is covering the cervix (placenta previa), the doctor might also do a pelvic exam to determine whether the cervix has begun to open.

Ultrasound. A transvaginal ultrasound might be used to measure the length of the cervix, as well as to check for problems with the baby or placenta, confirm the baby’s position, assess the volume of amniotic fluid, and estimate the baby’s weight.

Uterine monitoring. The uterine monitor measures the duration and spacing of the contractions.

Lab tests. The level of a protein called fetal fibronectin in the vaginal discharge may be measured. The presence of this protein is linked to preterm birth. A urine sample might also be tested for the presence of certain bacteria.

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Depending on the test results, the doctor might prescribe certain medications, such as Corticosteroids in form of an injection of potent steroids to speed your baby’s lung maturity, Magnesium sulfate that is linked to lower the risk of cerebral palsy for babies born before 32 weeks of gestation, and Tocolytics to temporarily stop the contractions as to give time to other medicine to work on the foetus. In some cases, a doctor can even recommend a surgical solution to preterm labor. 

Antenatal care during pregnancy

Antenatal care is always included in maternity insurance plans in Dubai, however, the benefit limits vary. Normal antenatal care includes approximately 8-10 antenatal appointments with the Ob-Gyn or midwife and it covers all the standard tests and screenings necessary for every pregnancy. However, in case a woman has premature labor symptoms, a series of additional tests and medications is needed, which all adds up in costs, and quite often, can exceed the basic maternity benefit limits. Hence, obtaining a comprehensive plan is advisable, especially in Dubai. 

And if the baby is born prematurely, it would have to be placed in ICU, which further increases the costs – even up to over US$ 123,000 as in the case of this British couple’s preterm baby. To offset these possible high costs, parents should ensure buying newborn health insurance which offers unconditional acceptance of a newborn onto your medical insurance policy regardless of the state of health of your baby. Of course, adding a new member to your family insurance plan in Dubai will increase your premiums, but it also protects the baby from medical insurance exclusions in the future. 

Structure your maternity plan with Dubai health insurance experts

If you are hoping to start a family in the near future, be sure to check out Pacific Prime’s latest Dubai Maternity Guide, or maternity-related blog posts. And if you have a specific question about how Dubai health insurance works, how much medical plans costs, and ways to secure the best plan, simply contact us, and one of our expert advisers will answer all your questions, help to compare plans from top worldwide insurers, such as Cigna Dubai, Bupa Dubai or Allianz Dubai, and provide you with free quotes!

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