Preterm (Premature) Labor

Preterm labor occurs three or more weeks before you are expected to give birth. Most women give birth between 37 and 42 weeks of pregnancy (a full term). In preterm labor, uterine contractions (tightening of the womb) cause the cervix (mouth of the womb) to open earlier than normal. This can result in the birth of a preterm or premature baby. Babies born prior to 37 weeks are considered preterm.

It is normal for your uterus to contract at times during your pregnancy especially when you first lie down, after you walk up and down stairs, or after sexual intercourse. However, it is not normal to have frequent (more than five contractions in an hour) uterine contractions before your baby is due. It is very difficult to predict who will have premature labor; it can happen to any pregnant woman.

Babies born prior to 37 weeks can have serious problems breathing, eating, and staying warm. Knowing what to look for may help you identify signs and symptoms of premature labor. If you notice any of the symptoms listed below, call your care provider immediately. Early recognition and treatment are important factors in stopping preterm labor and preventing premature birth.

Signs and symptoms of preterm labor may include:
Uterine tightening or contractions
More than four or five contractions in an hour. Contractions may be painless.

Menstrual-like cramps in the lower abdomen
May be rhythmic, continuous, or come and go. May be felt in the lower back.

Abdominal cramping
Cramping with or without diarrhea.

Low, dull backache felt below the waistline
May come and go or be constant. Different from the backache you might have felt as your uterus grew.

Pressure in lower belly, back, thighs, or between the legs
The feeling that your baby is pushing down or the baby is very heavy and low in the pelvis.

Vaginal discharge changes
Discharge may suddenly increase in amount and become watery or bloody.

Treatment may include:

• Bed rest
• Hydration, possibly via IV in the hospital
• Medications to relax the uterus and stop contractions
• Treatment of contributing factors (infection, high blood pressure, etc.)