Definition

What is premature labor?

Premature labor is also called preterm labor. It’s when your body starts getting ready for birth too early in your pregnancy. Labor is premature if it starts more than three weeks before your due date.

Premature labor can lead to an early birth. But the good news is that doctors can do a lot to delay an early delivery. The longer your baby gets to grow inside you — right up to your due date — the less likely he or she is to have problems after birth. 

How common is premature labor?

Premature labor occurs in about 12% of all pregnancies. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of premature labor?

To stop premature labor, you need to know the warning signs. Acting fast can make a big difference. Call your midwife or doctor right away if you have:

  • Backache, which usually will be in your lower back. This may be constant or come and go, but it won’t ease even if you change positions or do something else for comfort.
  • Contractions every 10 minutes or more often
  • Cramping in your lower abdomen or menstrual-like cramps. These can feel like gas pains that may come with diarrhea.
  • Fluid leaking from your vagina
  • Flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Call your doctor even about mild cases. If you can’t tolerate liquids for more than 8 hours, you must see your doctor.
  • Increased pressure in your pelvis or vagina
  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Vaginal bleeding, including light bleeding

Some of these may hard to tell apart from normal symptoms of being pregnant, like backache. But you can’t be too cautious. Get any possible warning signs checked out.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes premature labor?

Preterm delivery has several causes. Sometimes a woman goes into labor early for no obvious reason. At other times there may be a medical reason for early labor and delivery, such as:

  • Premature rupture of membranes
  • Bleeding during pregnancy (antepartum hemorrhage)
  • Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy
  • Weak cervix
  • Others

Risk factors

What increases my risk for premature labor?

There are many risk factors for premature labor, such as:

  • Smoking
  • Being very overweight or underweight before pregnancy
  • Not getting good prenatal care
  • Drinking alcohol or using street drugs during pregnancy
  • Having health conditions, such as high blood pressure, preeclampsia, diabetes, blood clotting disorders, or infections
  • Being pregnant with a baby that has certain birth defects
  • Being pregnant with a baby from in vitro fertilization
  • Being pregnant with twins or other multiples
  • A family or personal history of premature labor
  • Getting pregnant too soon after having a baby

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is premature labor diagnosed?

How to check for contractions

  • Checking for contractions is a key way of spotting early labor.
  • Place your fingertips on your abdomen.
  • If you feel your uterus tightening and softening, that’s a contraction.
  • Time your contractions. Write down the time when a contraction starts, and write down the time at the start of the next contraction.
  • Try to stop the contractions. Get off your feet. Change your position. Relax. Drink two or three glasses of water.
  • Call your doctor or midwife if you continue to have contractions every 10 minutes or more often, if any of your symptoms get worse, or if you have pain that’s severe and doesn’t go away.
  • Keep in mind that many women have harmless false labor called Braxton Hicks contractions. These are usually erratic, don’t get closer together, and stop when you move around or rest. They are not part of labor. If you’re not sure about the type of contractions you’re feeling, get medical advice.

If your doctor or midwife thinks you’re going into premature labor, you probably need to go to the hospital. Once you arrive, a doctor, midwife, or nurse will:

  • Ask about your medical history, including medicines you’ve been taking during pregnancy.
  • Check your pulse, blood pressure, and temperature.
  • Put a monitor on your belly to check your baby’s heart rate and your contractions.
  • Swab for fetal fibronectin, which helps predict the risk of delivering early.
  • Check your cervix to see if it is opening.

How is premature labor treated?

If you are diagnosed with premature labor, you may need treatment, which may include:

  • IV fluids
  • Medicine to relax your uterus and stop labor
  • Medicine to speed up the development of your baby’s lungs
  • Antibiotics
  • Being admitted to the hospital

If your labor has kept up and can’t be stopped, your doctor or midwife will get ready to deliver your baby.

If doctors say you’re not in premature labor, you can go home. Despite the popular belief, bed rest doesn’t seem to help prevent preterm birth and has risks of its own.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage premature labor?

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

 

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: November 1, 2017 | Last Modified: November 1, 2017

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