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Diseases & Conditions

Pregnancy Complications

What is premature labor?

Premature or pre-term labor is labor that begins more than three weeks before you are expected to deliver. Contractions (tightening of the muscles in the uterus) cause the cervix (lower end of the uterus) to open earlier than normal.

Pre-term labor might 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. Treatments to stop premature labor include bed rest, fluids given intravenously (in your vein) and medicines to relax the uterus.

What are the signs of premature labor?

It is important for you to learn the signs of premature labor so you can get help to stop it and prevent your baby from being born too early. To check for contractions, place your fingertips on your abdomen. If you can feel your uterus tightening and softening, write down how often the contractions are happening.

Please call your health care provider right away if you have any of the following symptoms and if the symptoms noted below do not go away in one hour, or if the pain is severe and persistent:

  • Four or more contractions or tightening of the muscles in the uterus in one hour that do not go away after changing your position or relaxing
  • 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 might feel like gas pain (with or without diarrhea)
  • Increased pressure in the pelvis or vagina
  • Persistent menstrual-like cramps
  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Leaking of fluid from the vagina
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Decreased fetal movements (if you don’t feel the baby move six to 10 times in a one-hour period)

What happens if your health care provider instructs you to go to the hospital?

After you talk to your health care provider about your signs of premature labor, he or she might tell you to go to the hospital. Once you arrive:

  • Your pulse, blood pressure, and temperature will be checked.
  • A monitor will be placed on your abdomen to check the baby’s heart rate and evaluate uterine contractions.
  • Your cervix will be checked to see if it is opening.

If you are in premature labor, you might receive medicine to stop labor. If the labor has progressed and cannot be stopped, you might need to deliver your baby. If you are not in premature labor, you will be able to go home.

References

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 7/23/2012...#4498