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)