Preterm labor: What dads can do

Preterm labor is labor that happens too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Babies born too early (called premature babies) may have more health problems at birth and later in life or need to stay in the hospital longer than babies born later. 

Learning the signs of preterm labor may help keep your baby from being born too early. If your partner has even one sign of preterm labor, call her health care provider. Getting help quickly is the best thing you can do for your baby. There are treatments that may help stop your partner’s labor and help her stay pregnant longer. 

What are the signs of preterm labor? 

These are the signs of preterm labor:

  • Contractions that make your partner’s belly tighten up like a fist every 10 minutes or more often
  • Change in the color of her vaginal discharge, or bleeding from the vagina
  • The feeling that the baby is pushing down. This is called pelvic pressure. 
  • Low, dull backache 
  • Cramps that feel like she’s having her period 
  • Belly cramps with or without diarrhea 

What should you do if your partner has any of the signs of preterm labor?

Call her health care provider. Her provider may tell her to:

  • Come to the office or go to the hospital.
  • Stop what she's doing and rest on her left side for 1 hour.
  • Drink two to three glasses of water or juice (not coffee or soda). 

If the signs get worse or don’t go away, call your partner’s provider again or take your partner to the hospital. If the signs do go away, help your partner relax for the rest of the day. 

What else can you do to help prevent preterm labor?

We don’t always know exactly what causes preterm labor. But there are things that make a woman more likely than others to have preterm labor. Here are some things you can do to help reduce your partner’s chances of having preterm labor: 

  • Help her quit smoking, drinking alcohol or abusing street or prescription drugs.
  • Help her stay at a healthy weight during pregnancy. Help her eat healthy foods and do something active every day.
  • Encourage her to talk to her provider about and get treatment for health conditions she has, like diabetes and high blood pressure.
  • Help her stay safe from infections. Make sure you’re both vaccinated against infections like the flu and pertussis (also called whooping cough). If either or you may have a sexually transmitted disease (also called STD), like genital herpes or HIV, get tested and treated. 
  • Use birth control between pregnancies to make sure your partner doesn’t get pregnant again too soon. It's best to wait at least 18 months between giving birth and getting pregnant again.
  • Help her reduce her stress. Let her talk to you and tell you how she feels. Help out around the house and try to give her some time to herself. If she’s worried about work, encourage her to talk to her boss. If she needs more support, encourage her to talk to her provider or a counselor.

Last reviewed: October, 2015