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Preterm labor or premature labor is labor that begins before the 37th completed week of pregnancy, which is before the baby is considered to be full term. Full-term is between 38 to 42 weeks. Due dates are usually calculated at 40 weeks from the last menstrual period.
Each woman may experience premature labor symptoms differently, so call your physician or the OB floor at your hospital if you experience one or more of the following:
Do not wait. Once preterm labor has progressed too far it may be too late to stop it. If you are unsure if you are experiencing labor, go to your clinic or hospital or call 911.
Preterm labor involves uterine contractions that open or dilate the cervix. You may also experience premature rupture of membranes (your water breaks).
Your provider may assess you for preterm labor by:
Call your doctor or the OB floor at your hospital if you have one or more signs of premature labor. Depending on your symptoms, you may be told to rest and wait for an hour, to drink water and lie down on your left side or to come in to be evaluated.
If you are between 23 and 34 weeks, your health care provider will most likely try to stop preterm labor with medication. In the event that your preterm labor cannot be stopped or if you or your baby's well-being is in danger, the baby may be delivered.
Unless you or your baby's health is in danger, your provider may recommend:
The exact cause of preterm labor is often unknown. Factors may stem from complications from the pregnancy, complications with the fetus or conditions in the mother's body.
The March of Dimes reports that 13 percent of births in the United States are preterm births.
Preterm labor may result in premature birth (preterm birth) -- when the baby's body and organs are not fully matured. Premature babies are often very small, have low birth weight, problems breathing, eating, staying warm and fighting infection. Babies born before 28 weeks may be too immature to survive outside the womb.
Premature babies often experience:
Most premature babies will be cared for in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for the first few weeks to months after birth.
False labor or Braxton Hick's contractions are a normal part of pregnancy. The periodic tightening of the uterus (and your abdomen) are typically painless, but they may be strong enough to take your breath away or force you to stop what you are doing and sit down. Preterm and normal labor may also begin as painless contractions. So, how can you tell the difference?
Experiencing preterm labor can be frightening and frustrating. Your doctor and hospital can assist you in finding support groups or counselors to help you cope.
You may also visit Sidelines, the National High Risk Pregnancy Support Network.