Preterm Labor - Exams and Tests
If you have symptoms of
preterm labor, both you and your fetus will be
examined and monitored.
For the mother
You will be examined for tenderness
in your uterus. Your temperature, pulse, and rate of breathing will be checked.
Depending on the nature of your symptoms, you may have one or more exams or
vaginal exam, to find out whether the contractions
have begun to open (dilate) or thin (efface) your
- A vaginal smear, which may be collected to check for:
- Infection. Disease-causing organisms in the
vagina can cause uterine infection, triggering preterm labor and serious
infection in the newborn.
- Amniotic fluid, which shows that the
amniotic sac has broken.
- Fetal fibronectin, which does not tell for sure if you
are having preterm labor. When the test is negative, it is unlikely that you
are having preterm labor. But even if the test is positive, it does not mean
for sure that you are having preterm labor. This test
is not useful for actually predicting preterm labor and is not used in all
labor and delivery units. It is done before a pelvic exam to reduce the risk of
Other tests that may be done to check for infection
If you have an infection, you may be treated with
For the fetus
- Your fetus's health is checked using
electronic fetal heart monitoring, which records fetal
heartbeats. Fetal monitoring also checks, records, and times the mother's
contractions and shows how the fetus's heart rate reacts to each uterine
fetal ultrasound test may be used to:
- Find out whether more than one fetus is in the
- Estimate the age, weight, and position of the fetus.
- Locate and check the condition of the
- Check the length of the
cervix. A short cervix is a sign that preterm labor
may be likely to happen.
- Amniocentesis is sometimes used to take amniotic fluid
from the uterus. This test is most commonly used to test the amniotic fluid
- Signs of infection.
- Substances that show whether the fetus can breathe without
assistance, in case of premature birth.
All of this information can help you and your doctor
or nurse-midwife decide whether to treat premature labor and delay the birth or
allow premature labor to continue and manage any complications that might