Premature labor, also known as preterm labor, is a serious complication of pregnancy. A normal pregnancy lasts 38 to 42 weeks. If you start having regular contractions before week 37 of your pregnancy, you could be experiencing premature labor.
If you deliver your baby before 37 weeks, your baby is considered to be premature. Babies born prematurely are at increased risk of having medical problems.
The cause of premature labor is often unknown. Stress, infection, alcohol or drug use, or smoking during a pregnancy can all play a role in premature labor.
You may be at an increased risk for having a premature baby if you:
- had a previous premature birth;
- are pregnant with more than one baby;
- have a history of uterine or cervical abnormalities.
If you think you are having preterm labor, you should contact your healthcare provider or go to the emergency room right away. Signs and symptoms of preterm labor include:
- change in vaginal discharge, such as an increase, or if it is watery, mucus- like, or bloody;
- any vaginal bleeding or spotting;
- abdominal pain or contractions;
- increased pelvic pressure;
- low back pain.
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of preterm labor, and taking quick action, can make a difference. For more information on preterm labor, contact the Maternal and Child Health Consortium in your area.