Preterm labor

If labor begins prior to 37 completed weeks of pregnancy, it is considered preterm. Preterm labor can be dangerous because if your baby is born too early, s/he could have health problems or not be developed enough to survive outside the uterus.

Warning signs of preterm labor

  • Change or increase in vaginal discharge
  • Ruptured membranes or “broken water” (a slow leak, steady trickle or sudden gush)
  • Six or more uterine contractions in one hour in a regular pattern
  • Menstrual-like cramps, a dull backache or increased pelvic pressure for more than one hour
  • Throbbing in the vagina, cramps in the thighs or feeling like your baby is pushing down
  • Intestinal cramping with or without diarrhea or indigestion for more than one hour

Tests and treatment for preterm labor

Your provider can tell if you have preterm labor by using a fetal monitor to check for contractions, doing a pelvic exam to check your cervix, or conducting lab tests to tell if you are at risk for delivering early. There are several treatment options to slow or stop preterm labor, and they include:

  • Increased fluids
  • Medication to stop contractions or treat infections
  • Bed rest to relieve pressure on your cervix

Remember do not to lie flat on your back because lying on your side will increase blood flow to your baby. Many times, preterm labor can be treated at home. Other times a hospital stay may be needed. Your provider will help determine what is best for you.

General instructions for preterm labor

Your health care provider may give you specific activity restrictions, but keep these general tips in mind as well:

  • Empty your bladder often.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water. Drink enough to keep your urine pale yellow in color.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet with foods high in fiber.
  • Do not smoke, use alcohol or drugs.
  • Avoid strenuous activities like yard work, jogging, aerobics or a lot of stair climbing.
  • Do not lift small children, heavy laundry, groceries or boxes.
  • Avoid heavy cleaning such as scrubbing floors, moving furniture or vacuuming.
  • Avoid car trips longer than 30 minutes and do not fly.
  • Avoid breast or nipple stimulation or sex.


What to Expect: The stages of labor >