Pregnancy complications - preterm
Labor that begins before week 37 is called "preterm" or "premature." About 1 out of every 10 babies born in the United States is preterm.
A preterm birth is one of the major reasons babies are born disabled or die. But good prenatal care improves the chances that a preterm baby will do well.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Preterm Labor?
You need to see a health care provider right away if you have:
What Causes Preterm Labor?
Researchers do not know what actually causes preterm labor in most women. However, we do know that certain conditions can increase the risk of preterm labor, including:
The mother's health problems or lifestyle choices that can lead to preterm labor include:
Problems with the placenta, uterus, or cervix that can lead to preterm labor include:
Lower Your Risk of Preterm Labor
To reduce your risk of preterm labor, follow your provider's advice. Call as soon as you can if you think you are having preterm labor. Early treatment is the best way to prevent preterm delivery.
Prenatal care lowers the risk of having your baby too early. See your provider as soon as you think you are pregnant. You should also:
It is even better to start seeing your provider if you are planning to have a baby but are not yet pregnant. Be as healthy as you can be before getting pregnant:
Women with a history of preterm delivery may need weekly injections of the hormone progesterone. Be sure to tell your provider if you had a previous premature birth.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your provider right away if you notice any of these signs before your 37th week of pregnancy:
Your provider can do an exam to see if you are having preterm labor.
If you have preterm labor, you will need to be in the hospital. You may receive medicines to stop your contractions and mature your baby's lungs.
Simhan HN, Iams JD, Romero R. Preterm labor and birth. In: Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, et al, eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 29.
Sumhan HN, Berghella V, Iams JD. Preterm labor and birth. In: Creasy RK, Resnick R, Iams JD, Lockwood CJ, Moore TR, Greene MF, eds. Creasy and Resnik's Maternal-Fetal Medicine: Principles and Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 40.
Vasquez V, Desai S. Labor and delivery and their complications. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 181.
Review Date: 4/19/2018
Reviewed By: John D. Jacobson, MD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda Center for Fertility, Loma Linda, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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