Preterm labor is labor that happens too early, before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy. Preterm labor can lead to preterm birth (also called premature birth). This means your baby is born before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy. Babies born this early can face serious health problems. Nearly half a million babies are born prematurely each year in this country.
Sometimes we don’t know for sure what causes preterm labor and birth. Any woman can have preterm labor and give birth early, even if she’s done everything right during pregnancy.
We do know some things make a woman more likely than others to have preterm labor and birth. These are called risk factors. Having a risk factor doesn’t mean for sure that you’ll have preterm labor or give birth early. But it may increase your chances. Talk to your health provider about what you can do to help reduce your risk.
These three risk factors make you most likely to have preterm labor and give birth early:
Other risk factors for preterm labor and birth are:
Conditions in your everyday life (lifestyle and environment)
Groups at increased risk
We know that preterm labor can lead to early birth. So how do you know if you’re in preterm labor? Learn the signs of preterm labor so you know what to do if preterm labor happens to you.
Yes. These treatments are not a guarantee to stop preterm labor. But if you’re having preterm labor, they may help you stay pregnant longer. Talk to your provider to find out if these treatments are right for you:
If you have signs of preterm labor, your provider may want you to have the fFN test. fFN stands for fetal fibronectin. It’s a protein that your body makes during pregnancy.
The fFN test is like a Pap smear. It checks to see how much fFN is in your vagina. If the test shows you don’t have any fFN, you probably won’t have your baby for at least another 2 weeks.
If you have preterm labor, your provider may give you treatments to try to stop your contractions and help prevent health problems in your baby. These include:
Last reviewed June 2013
See also: Peterm labor: What dads can do
No one knows for sure what causes a woman to have preterm labor. But if you have certain risk factors, you're more likely than a woman without risk factors to have preterm labor. Risk factors include: having already had a premature baby or getting pregnant again too soon after having a baby; being pregnant with twins or more; and having problems with your uterus or cervix. You're more likely to have preterm labor if you're underweight or overweight or if you have health problems, like high blood pressure, diabetes or certain infections. Things in your life like stress, smoking, drinking alcohol and using drugs also put you at risk. Talk to your provider if you have any of these risk factors. You may be able to reduce your risk and have a better chance for a healthy pregnancy.
You'll know you're in labor if:
If you think you're in labor, call your health care provider, no matter what time of day or night.
There is no set timeline for survival for babies born early. Babies born earlier than 23 weeks have a much smaller chance of survival than babies born after 23 weeks.
About 9 out of 10 babies born at 28 weeks survive. But many have serious health problems. Any baby born before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy is considered premature. Premature babies have less time to develop in the womb than babies who arrive on time. This puts them at greater risk of medical and developmental problems. Every extra day in the womb helps the baby develop and mature and probably improve his or her health and development later in life. Between 23 and 26 weeks, every extra day in the womb increases a baby's chance of survival by 2 to 4 percent.