Preterm Labor and Preterm Birth



What is preterm labor?

Preterm labor is defined as regular contractions of the uterus resulting in changes in the cervix that start before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Changes in the cervix can include effacement (the cervix thins out) and dilation (the cervix opens so that the fetus can enter the birth canal).


What is preterm birth?

When birth occurs between 20 and 37 weeks of pregnancy, it is called preterm birth.


Why is preterm birth a concern?

Preterm birth is a concern because babies who are born too early may not be fully developed.  They may be born with serious health problems, some of which can last their entire life.  Some problems, such as learning disabilities, may appear later in childhood or in adulthood.


What are signs of preterm labor?

  • Change in vaginal discharge (leaking fluid or blood)
  • Increase in amount of discharge
  • Pelvic or lower abdominal pressure
  • Constant low, dull backache
  • Mild abdominal cramps, with or without diarrhea
  • Regular or frequent contractions or uterine tightening, often painless
  • Ruptured membranes (your water breaks with a gush or a trickle of fluid)


What should I do if I have any signs of preterm labor?

Call your health care provider or go to the hospital right away if you think you are having preterm labor or if you have any signs of preterm labor. Call even if you have only one sign.


For more information about preterm labor and preterm birth, talk to your provider. More information is also available at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website at



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