Preterm Labor - Topic Overview
Is this topic for you?
This topic covers preterm labor as it
relates to the pregnant woman's problems and care. If you are looking for
information about babies who are born too soon, see the topic
Premature Infant. Labor and delivery before the end of
20 weeks of pregnancy is called a
miscarriage. See the topic
Miscarriage for more information.
Preterm labor is the start
of labor between 20 and 37 weeks of pregnancy. A full-term pregnancy lasts 37
to 42 weeks. In labor, the
uterus contracts to open the
cervix. This is the first stage of childbirth.
Preterm labor is also called premature labor.
What are the risks of preterm labor and preterm birth?
The earlier the delivery, the greater the risk for serious problems for
the baby. This is because many of the organs-especially the heart and lungs-are
not fully grown, or mature. Premature infants born after 32 weeks of pregnancy
tend to have less chance of problems than those born earlier.
infants born before 24 weeks of pregnancy, the chances of survival are
extremely slim. Many who do survive have long-term health problems. They may
also have other problems, such as trouble with learning and talking and with
moving their body (poor motor skills).
What causes preterm labor?
Preterm labor can be
caused by a problem with the baby, the mother, or both. Often the cause is not
Preterm labor most often occurs naturally. But sometimes a
doctor uses medicine or other methods to start labor early because of pregnancy
problems that are dangerous to the mother or her baby.
preterm labor include:
- The placenta separating early from the uterus. This is called
- Being pregnant with more
than one baby, such as twins or triplets.
- An infection in the
mother's uterus that leads to the start of labor.
- Problems with
the uterus or cervix.
- Drug or alcohol use during
- The mother's water (amniotic fluid)
breaking before contractions start.
Treatments to help a woman get pregnant have led to more
women being pregnant with more than one baby, such as twins or triplets. This
has also increased the number of women who have preterm labor and preterm
What are the symptoms?
It can be hard to tell when
labor starts, especially when it starts early. So watch for these
- Regular contractions for an hour. This means about 4 or more in
20 minutes, or about 8 or more within 1 hour, even after you have had a glass
of water and are resting.
- Leaking or gushing of fluid from your
vagina. You may notice that it is pink or reddish.
- Pain that feels
like menstrual cramps, with or without diarrhea.
- A feeling of
pressure in your pelvis or lower belly.
- A dull ache in your lower
back, pelvic area, lower belly, or thighs that does not go away.
Not feeling well, including having a fever you can't explain and being overly
tired. Your belly may hurt when you press on it.