About Preterm Labor

Pregnant patients who have been exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) have an increased risk of experiencing premature (early) labor. Babies born early have an increased risk of developing medical complications, often as a result of the fact that babies born early:

  • usually weigh much less than babies born at term.
  • may have incomplete lung development — the lungs mature in late pregnancy.

Preventing Preterm Labor

Preventing premature labor is the most important component of prenatal care for all patients who hold an increased risk. Central to the success of preventing early labor is your provider's commitment to educating and maintaining frequent contact with you. It is critical that all pregnant patients understand what they can do to keep themselves healthy and how to determine, as early as possible, if they are experiencing early labor. Your provider will recommend frequent visits and encourage and maintain communication by phone.

Signs of Preterm Labor

All patients who have been exposed to DES should be aware of the signs and symptoms of early labor. In addition, your provider can teach you how to feel your uterus to determine if contractions are present. Signs and symptoms of early labor include:

  • Frequent lower abdominal tightening
  • Menstrual-like cramps
  • Pelvic pressure
  • Persistent lower backache
  • Spotting blood
  • An increase in the amount, consistency, or color of vaginal discharge

Treating Preterm Labor

You should contact your health care provider if you experience symptoms of preterm labor. This is critical, since an early diagnosis of premature labor results in more effective treatment. Your provider may recommend:

  • Immediate bed rest
  • Lying on the your left side
  • Drinking extra fluids
  • Intravenous hydration
  • Medication (tocolytics) to suppress or stop uterine contractions
  • Cerclage, which involves stitching the cervical os (opening) to keep it from opening too early. This procedure may not be possible in DES-exposed women who have abnormal cervices.