Preterm Labor

Warning Signs of Preterm Labor

The length of a pregnancy is 40 weeks. In most pregnancies, labor starts between 37 and 42 weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period. When it begins before 37 weeks, it is considered preterm. About 1 of every 10 babies born in the United States is born preterm. Your baby can have problems if it is born too early. Serious illness or death can occur because the baby is not yet ready for life on his or her own.

What Is Preterm Labor?

Labor starts with regular contractions of the uterus. The cervix thins out (effaces) and opens up (dilates) so the baby can enter the birth canal. It is not known for certain what causes labor to start. Hormones produced by the woman, placenta, and fetus play a role. Changes in the uterus, which may be caused by these hormones, may cause labor to start. There are many reasons for preterm labor. In most cases of preterm labor, however, the exact cause is not known.

Warning Signs of Preterm Labor

If preterm labor is found early enough, delivery may be prevented or postponed in some cases. This will give your baby extra time to grow and mature. Even a few more days may mean a healthier baby. Sometimes the signs that preterm labor may be starting are fairly easy to detect. The box lists the early signs of preterm labor. If you have any of these symptoms, don’t wait. Call your doctor’s office or go to the hospital.

Call your doctor or nurse right away if you notice any of these symptoms:
  • Change in type (watery, mucus, or bloody) of vaginal discharge
  • Increase in amount of discharge
  • Pelvic or lower abdominal pressure
  • Constant, low, dull backache
  • Mild abdominal cramps, with or without diarrhea
  • Regular or frequent contractions or uterine tightening, often painless
  • Ruptured membranes (your water breaks with a gush, or sometimes even a trickle of fluid)