Preterm Labor - Topic Overview
If your contractions stop, they may have been
Braxton Hicks contractions. These are a sometimes
uncomfortable, but not painful, tightening of the uterus. They are like
practice contractions. But sometimes it can be hard to tell the
If preterm labor contractions do not stop, the cervix
begins to open (dilate) or thin (efface). Before or after contractions begin,
amniotic sac that holds the baby may break. This is
called a rupture of membranes. It causes a leakage or a gush of amniotic fluid.
Rupture of membranes before contractions start is called
premature rupture of membranes, or PROM. Before 37
weeks of pregnancy, it is called preterm premature rupture of membranes, or
How is preterm labor diagnosed?
If you think you
have symptoms of preterm labor, call your doctor or certified nurse-midwife. He
or she can check to see if your water has broken, if you have an infection, or
if your cervix is starting to dilate. You may also have urine and blood tests
to check for problems that can cause preterm labor. Checking the baby's
heartbeat and doing an
ultrasound can give your doctor or midwife a good
picture of how your baby is doing. Amniotic fluid can be tested for signs that
your baby's lungs have grown enough for delivery.
You may have a
painless swab test for a protein in the vagina called fetal fibronectin. If the
test does not find the protein, then you are unlikely to deliver soon. But the
test cannot tell for certain if you are about to have a preterm birth.
How is it treated?
If you are in preterm labor,
your doctor or certified nurse-midwife must weigh the risks of early delivery
against the risks of waiting to deliver. Depending on your situation, your
doctor or midwife may:
- Try to delay the birth with medicine. This may or may not
- Use antibiotics to treat or prevent infection. If your
amniotic sac has broken early, you have a high risk of infection and must be
- Give you steroid medicine to help prepare your baby's lungs for
- Treat any other medical problems causing trouble
- Allow the labor to go on because delivery is safer
for the mother and baby than letting the pregnancy go on.
Frequently Asked Questions