Preterm labor occurs when regular contractions result in the opening of your cervix after week 20 and before week 37 of pregnancy.
Preterm labor can result in premature birth. The earlier premature birth happens, the greater the health risks for your baby. Many premature babies (preemies) need special care in the neonatal intensive care unit. Preemies can also have long-term mental and physical disabilities.
The specific cause of preterm labor often isn’t clear. Certain risk factors might increase the chance of preterm labor, but preterm labor can also occur in pregnant women with no known risk factors.
Signs and symptoms of preterm labor include:
When to see a doctor
If you experience these signs or symptoms or you’re concerned about what you’re feeling, contact your health care provider right away. Don’t worry about mistaking false labor for the real thing. Everyone will be pleased if it’s a false alarm.
Preterm labor can affect any pregnancy. Many factors have been associated with an increased risk of preterm labor, however, including:
Complications of preterm labor include delivering a preterm baby. This can pose a number of health concerns for your baby, such as low birth weight, breathing difficulties, underdeveloped organs and vision problems. Children who are born prematurely also have a higher risk of cerebral palsy, learning disabilities and behavioral problems.
You might not be able to prevent preterm labor — but there’s much you can do to promote a healthy, full-term pregnancy. For example:
If your health care provider determines that you’re at increased risk of preterm labor, he or she might recommend taking additional steps to reduce your risk.