You're in! See your latest actions or visit profile and dashboard
Account Information
Dashboard
March for Babies Dashboard

  • Preferences
  • Messages
  • Favorites

Preterm labor

  • Preterm labor can happen to any pregnant woman.
  • Some women have a higher risk than others.
  • Learn the signs of preterm labor.
Now playing:
save print
e-mail

When your baby arrives too early

Even if you do everything right during pregnancy, you can still have preterm labor. Preterm labor is labor that starts too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Babies born too early may have more health problems or need to stay in the hospital longer than babies born on time.

No one knows for sure what causes preterm labor. Some women are more likely than others to have it.

In this topic, find out more about preterm labor and how you may be able to reduce your risk of starting labor early. Learn the signs of preterm labor and what to do if they happen to you. If you do begin labor early, there are treatments, like progesterone, that may help stop your labor.

Signs of preterm labor

  • Contractions every 10 minutes or more often
  • Change in vaginal discharge
  • Pelvic pressure
  • Low, dull backache
  • Cramps that feel like your period
  • Abdominal cramps with or without diarrhea

Most common questions

Am I at risk for preterm labor?

No one knows for sure what causes a woman to have preterm labor. But if you have certain risk factors, you're more likely than a woman without risk factors to have preterm labor. Risk factors include: having already had a premature baby or getting pregnant again too soon after having a baby; being pregnant with twins or more; and having problems with your uterus or cervix. You're more likely to have preterm labor if you're underweight or overweight or if you have health problems, like high blood pressure, diabetes or certain infections. Things in your life like stress, smoking, drinking alcohol and using drugs also put you at risk. Talk to your provider if you have any of these risk factors. You may be able to reduce your risk and have a better chance for a healthy pregnancy.

How do I know I’m in labor?

You'll know you're in labor if:

  • You have strong and regular contractions that last 30 to 60 seconds and come 5 to 10 minutes apart.
  • Your water breaks. Your baby has been growing in amniotic fluid (bag of waters) in your uterus. When the bag of waters breaks you may feel a big rush of waters or you may feel just a trickle.
  • You bleed a little from your vagina. This is called bloody show.

If you think you're in labor, call your health care provider, no matter what time of day or night.

How early can a baby be born and live?

There is no set timeline for survival for babies born early. Babies born earlier than 23 weeks have a much smaller chance of survival than babies born after 23 weeks.

About 9 out of 10 babies born at 28 weeks survive. But many have serious health problems. Any baby born before 37 weeks of pregnancy is considered premature. Premature babies have less time to develop in the womb than babies who arrive on time. This puts them at greater risk of medical and developmental problems. Every extra day in the womb helps the baby develop and mature and probably improve his or her health and development later in life. Between 23 and 26 weeks, every extra day in the womb increases a baby's chance of survival by 2 to 4 percent.

Have questions?

Join our efforts

Learn when you can make a difference to moms and babies