Preterm Labor

Preterm labor is labor that begins before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Preterm labor can lead to premature birth. Being born too soon can be life-threatening to babies and cause them to have life long health problems. While preterm labor can happen to any woman, some women have a greater risk. Women at risk for preterm labor include women who smoke, take drugs or alcohol, are younger than 17 years old or older than 37 years old, are carrying twins or more, have had a previous preterm infant, are under stress or in an abusive situation, or develop untreated infections including sexually transmitted disease.

Symptoms include back pain, contractions tightening of the abdomen every 10 minutes or more often, pelvic pressure, menstrual cramps with or without diarrhea, change in vaginal discharge, leaking or bleeding from the vagina. If you experience any of these symptoms it is very important to contact your health care provider right away even if it is after office hours. Your provider may want to see you immediately at the hospital.

Preterm labor can not always be prevented, but you can reduce your risk of having a baby born too early. You decrease your risk of preterm labor by having regular medical care during your pregnancy, eating healthy foods, managing stress, taking care of your teeth and gums, following your doctor’s instructions on physical activity, and avoiding smoking, alcohol and drugs. Tell you health care provider about all medicines, including herbs and over-the-counter medicines that you are taking. It is very important to prevent sexually transmitted infections through the use of condoms. Work with your health care provider to manage diabetes, high blood pressure or any other health conditions. If your health care provider prescribes medicine(s) take them as instructed. Drinking plenty of water is also very important during pregnancy.

Many women go into preterm labor because of dehydration. Avoid soda, tea, coffee and other drinks that contain caffeine, because caffeine can make you more dehydrated. In the summer months, remember to rest frequently and drink plenty of water. Ask your health care provider how much water you should be drinking daily.

Every pregnant woman is at risk for preterm labor. It is important for you to know the warning signs of preterm labor so you can get help early. For your baby’s sake, please talk with your health care provider. They will help you to decrease your risk factors and keep your baby safe and happy while growing inside of you.

For more information on preterm labor visit the March of Dimes website.