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Preterm Labor


Preterm labor

labor occurs when the uterus contracts and your cervix opens earlier than normal. The cervix is the opening of your uterus. In preterm labor, contractions are strong enough and occur often enough to allow the cervix to open for delivery of your baby. Preterm labor happens after the 20th week of pregnancy but before the 37th week of pregnancy. An early labor could cause you to have your baby before he is ready to be born.

Common signs and symptoms include the following:

You may not know that you are having preterm labor. It is common to have preterm contractions (tightening and relaxing of the uterus) and not notice them. The following are signs and symptoms that suggest a preterm labor:

  • Contractions that get stronger and closer together
  • Changes in vaginal discharge, such as more discharge or discharge that is watery or bloody
  • Low back pain
  • Pressure in the lower abdomen
  • Vaginal spotting or bleeding

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You see or feel like there is something in your vagina.

Seek care immediately if:

  • You have bright red, painless vaginal bleeding.
  • Your symptoms do not get better or they get worse.
  • Your water broke or you feel warm water gushing or trickling from your vagina.
  • You have contractions that get stronger and closer together for more than 1 hour.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You notice a decrease in your baby's movement.
  • You have abdominal cramps, pressure, or tightening.
  • You have a change in vaginal discharge.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have burning when you urinate or you are urinating less than is normal for you.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Treatment for preterm labor

may delay delivery. You may need any of the following:

  • Bed rest may be recommended. You may need to lie on your left side, which improves circulation to the uterus and baby. Your healthcare provider will tell you when it is okay to get out of bed.
  • Medicine may be given to stop contractions if your baby is not ready to be born. You may also need certain medicines if your preterm labor cannot be stopped and your healthcare provider thinks you will have your baby early. These medicines help your baby's lungs, brain, and digestive organs mature. They also help decrease your baby's risk of being born with cerebral palsy. Antibiotics may be given to treat a bacterial infection, if needed.


  • Rest as much as possible. You may need to lie on your left side to improve circulation to the uterus and baby. You may be able to prevent preterm labor by resting and reducing your physical activity.
  • Ask your healthcare provider about activities that are safe for you to do. Your healthcare provider or obstetrician may recommend that you avoid sexual intercourse. Ask your healthcare provider if exercise is safe.
  • Drink liquids as directed. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • Do not smoke. Your baby may not grow well and he may weigh less at birth if you smoke during pregnancy. Smoking also increases the risk that your baby will be born too early. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol may harm your unborn baby and cause preterm labor.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. A healthy weight may prevent preterm labor. Ask your healthcare provider how much weight you should gain during your pregnancy.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Preterm Labor (Ambulatory Care)

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