Premature Labor

(Preterm Labor)



Premature or Pre-term Labor


What is premature labor?

About 12 percent of births (1 in 8) in the United States are pre-term.
Premature labor (or pre-term labor) is labor that begins more than three weeks before you are expected to deliver your baby (but after the 24th week of pregnancy). If symptoms appear before 24 weeks, this is a threatened miscarriage and not preterm labour. Between 24 and 37 weeks, if there are uterine contractions, usually regular and painful (and occasionally painless), accompanied by changes to the cervix, then this is preterm labour. 37 completed weeks onwards is 'Term'.

Contractions (tightening of the muscles in the uterus) cause the cervix (lower end of the uterus) to open earlier than normal. It is important for you to learn the signs of premature labor so that you can recognize them and get help to stop it and prevent your baby from being born too early.

Pre-term labor may result in the birth of a premature baby. However, labor often can be stopped to allow the baby more time to grow and develop in the uterus. Premature labor treatments include bed rest, fluids given intravenously (in your vein), and medications to relax the uterus.

If born prematurely after the seventh month, a baby would likely survive, but may need to stay for a short time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) of the hospital. If the baby is born earlier than the seventh month, he or she may be able to survive with specialized care in the NICU.

- Easy to use Contractions Timer with contractions log print out.


What Are the Signs of Premature Labor?

It is important for you to learn the signs of premature labor so that you can recognize them and get help to stop it and prevent your baby from being born too early. Premature labor is usually not painful, but there are several warning signs, including:
  • Contractions or tightening of the muscles in the uterus every ten minutes or more.
  • Regular tightening or low, dull pain in your back that either comes or goes or is constant (but is not relieved by changing positions or other comfort measures).
  • Lower abdominal cramping that may feel like gas pain (with or without diarrhea).
  • Increased pressure in the pelvis or vagina.
  • Dull, low backache or back pressure.
  • Menstrual-like cramps above the pubic bone.
  • Leaking of fluid from the vagina.
  • Pinkish or brownish discharge, or blood coming from the vagina.
  • Flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
  • Decreased fetal movements (the baby does not kick as often as it usually does).

If you experience any of these symptoms or more than four contractions in an hour, call your Doctor, midwife or health care provider immediately. You may be asked to come in to be checked, or they may ask you to time your contractions. You can feel the contractions (your uterus tightening and relaxing) by placing your fingertips lightly on your abdomen.


Who is at risk?

Pre-term labor can happen to any woman:
Only about half the women who have pre-term labor fall into any known risk group. About 12 percent of births (1 in 8) in the United States are preterm. Babies who are born preterm are at higher risk of needing hospitalization, having long-term health problems or dying than babies born at the right time.

Three groups of women are at greatest risk of pre-term labor and birth:
  • Women who have had a previous pre-term birth
  • Women who are pregnant with twins, triplets or more
  • Women with certain uterine or cervical abnormalities

Pre-term labor may sometimes be stopped with a combination of medication and rest. More often, birth can be delayed just long enough to transport the woman to a hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and to give her a drug to help speed up her baby's lung development.

Treatment with a form of the hormone progesterone may help prevent premature birth in some women who have already had a premature baby.



What is the treatment for pre-term labor?

Having some uterine activity before 37 weeks of pregnancy is normal. If your contractions occur 4 times in 20 minutes or you have 8 contractions in an hour, you need to call your care provider right away. You may be in pre-term labor. You should contact your care provider each time you have 8 or more contractions per hour, unless he or she has advised otherwise.

If your care provider thinks you might be in pre-term labour, they will arrange for you to be admitted to the hospital so your provider can monitor you more closely.

There are three reasons for this.
  • To do a vaginal examination to check whether the cervix is opening up, and to do tests on the vaginal fluid, which may predict pre-term labour.
  • To try and stop labour with drugs, you may be given medications called tocolytics that may stop contractions. As with all medications, tocolytics can have side effects. These don't always work, and are not suitable for everyone, but your doctor will advise you. If you really are in pre-term labour you may be given a medication called a corticosteroid. This substance crosses the placenta and helps the baby's lungs mature and increases the baby's chances.
  • If all this fails and the baby is born pre-term, it is better for him to be in hospital. He might be very small and have problems breathing, eating, keeping his body temperature at a normal level, and developing body organs. A pre-term baby is cared for in a special Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), where special assistance helps the baby develop properly. Some hospitals call this a Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU).


Pre-term Delivery

Sometimes preterm labor may be too far along to be stopped, or there may be reasons that the baby is better off being born, even if it is early. These can include:
    • Infection
    • High blood pressure
    • Bleeding
    • Signs that the fetus may be having problems
Many preterm babies are tiny and fragile. The baby may need special medical care to breathe, eat, keep warm, and treat any health problems that may arise. You or your baby may be moved to a different hospital that can provide this type of care. The care your baby needs depends on how early he or she is born.


For More Information on:

Premature Babies, Pre-Term or Preemies and
Low Weight Babies (LWB) - Small for Gestational Age (SGA)

Premature Babies - Babies that are born before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy.

The main causes for Low Birth Weight:
The two main causes of LBW are early delivery, also known as preterm birth, and poor fetal growth. About 70% of all LBW babies are born preterm - before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy. The remaining 30% of low birth weight babies are born at full term, but did not grow properly in the womb.

Information and Pictures:   Some of the smallest babies in the world like:-

Premature Babies
Rumaisa was born: 8.4 oz (244 g) - USA at 25 weeks
Madeline birth weight: 9.9 oz (280 g) - USA at 26 weeks
Amillia weighed 10 oz (283 g) - USA, born at 21 weeks
Marian birth weight 10 oz (283 g) - UK at 34 weeks

  Main Pages

  Pregnancy Tools

Due Date and
Weeks Calculator:

  Last Menstrual Period:

  Estimated Conception:
  Estimated Due Date:
  Since LMP:

  Baby Extras

  Baby Grows  Preconception  Pregnancy  Exercise  Names  Medical

Babies x2

Names Search

Enter a name
or word that
appear in its meaning:


higher energy
Drink water regularly
- at least 8 glasses
of fluid a day
higher energy

External Links

Review on