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Preterm Labor


Preterm (premature) labor occurs when the uterus contracts and your cervix opens earlier than normal. The cervix is the opening of your uterus. Preterm labor happens after the 20th week of pregnancy but before the 37th week. You may have premature rupture of membranes (PROM). PROM means your water broke before labor began. An early labor could cause you to have your baby before he or she is ready to be born.

Female Reproductive System


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.

External fetal heart monitoring:

External fetal heart monitoring is used to monitor your baby's heartbeat and the contractions of your uterus. A small metal monitor is placed on your abdomen. A belt will be put around your waist to hold the monitor in place.


  • Tocolytics are given to stop contractions for a short time if your baby is not ready to be born.
  • Corticosteroids may be given if preterm labor cannot be stopped and preterm delivery is likely. These medicines help your baby's lungs, brain, and digestive organs mature.
  • Magnesium sulfate is a medicine that may be given if you are less than 32 weeks pregnant and you may deliver with 24 hours. This medicine helps decrease your baby's risk of being born with cerebral palsy.
  • Antibiotics may be given to prevent a strep infection during delivery. If you have PROM, antibiotics may also be used to prevent labor from starting.


  • A pelvic exam is also called an internal or vaginal exam. During a pelvic exam, your healthcare provider will gently put a warmed speculum into your vagina. A speculum is a tool that opens your vagina. This lets your healthcare provider see if your cervix is opening.
  • A vaginal ultrasound uses sound waves to show pictures of your cervix and your baby inside your uterus. During this test, a small tube is placed into your vagina. This test will help your healthcare provider see if your cervix is opening.
  • A fetal ultrasound uses sound waves to show pictures of your baby inside your uterus. The movement, heart rate, and position of your baby can also be seen.
    Pregnancy Ultrasound
  • A fetal fibronectin test checks for a protein called fetal fibronectin in the cervix or vagina. Normally, there is no protein in cervical and vaginal secretions until the 20th week of pregnancy up to the end of pregnancy.
  • Amniocentesis is a test that is done to see if your baby's lungs are developed. It also done to check if you have an infection in your amniotic sac. The amniotic sac contains the fluid around your baby. Healthcare providers take a sample of the fluid by putting a needle through the skin of your abdomen and into your uterus. The sample will then be sent to the lab for tests.
  • Blood and urine tests may be done to look for signs of infection.
  • A fluid sample from your vagina or rectum may be checked for group B strep if you have PROM.


Preterm labor may cause you to have your baby before he or she is ready to be born. Your baby could have lung problems and other health problems if he or she is born too early.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

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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.

Learn more about Preterm Labor (Inpatient Care)

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Further information

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