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March 6, 2014

Sandy Van

Preterm Labor
Learn about the signs of preterm labor, what you can do if
you experience it, and what to expect if this may occur.

What is preterm labor?

A full-term or normal pregnancy usually lasts about 40 weeks, but if you are
having regular contractions that are causing your cervix to begin to open
before you reach 37 weeks of pregnancy, you are in preterm labor.

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What are the risk factors?

Previous preterm labor or
premature birth


Pregnancy with twins or

other multiples

Smoking cigarettes

Problems with the uterus,

cervix, or placenta

Using illegal drugs

Little or no prenatal care

Underweight or overweight
before pregnancy
Urinary tract infections and
vaginal infections
Sexually transmitted
High blood pressure

What should I
do if I think I am
If you think you are
symptoms of premature
unusual at any time during
your pregnancy, call your
You may
have to go to the hospital
for further assessments
because the only sure
way to know if you are in
premature labor is by


History of multiple

Too much amniotic fluid

Drinking alcohol
Domestic violence
Younger than 17 or older
than 35
Moderate to severe anemia
Vaginal bleeding during
Short time between
Low income
High levels of stress

What are the warning signs of

premature labor?
Regular or frequent
contractions occurring every
10 minutes or more
frequently within one hour
Watery fluid leaking from
your vagina (this could
indicate that your bag of
water is broken)
Constant, low, dull back

Any vaginal spotting or

More vaginal discharge
than usual
Pelvic pressure that feels
like your baby is pushing

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What types of treatment should I expect if

I am experiencing preterm labor?
If you are less than 34 weeks pregnant
and in active preterm labor, your health care
provider might recommend hospitalization. In
addition, your health care provider will give
you medications to temporarily halt preterm
labor to try to give your baby more time to
mature. You will receive medications called
tocolytics to temporarily stop your
contractions. A commonly used tocolytic is
magnesium sulfate, which relaxes the smooth
muscle of the uterus and thus inhibits uterine
activity by suppressing contractions. If one
type of tocolytic does not stop preterm labor,
you may be given another type. In addition, if

you are between 24 and 34 weeks of

gestation, your babys lungs are not yet
mature, so you will be given two injections of
potent steroids called betamethasone
(Celestone) to mature your babys lungs
faster. Your health care provider may also
suggest plenty of bedrest, have you lie on
your left side to slow down or stop
contractions, and recommend that you drink
lots of water because dehydration can also
cause contractions. If preterm labor cannot
be stopped or you or your baby is
experiencing a complication, you may have to
deliver your baby early.

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What could happen if my baby is born premature?

If your baby is born prematurely, this
could pose various health problems or could
even be fatal, particularly if it happens very
early. Such problems include low birth
weight, breathing difficulties,
underdeveloped organs, and vision
problems. They may be more prone to
infection and jaundice and have difficulty
feeding as well as maintaining their body
temperature. Children born prematurely also
have a higher risk for learning disabilities
and behavioral problems and may suffer
long-term health consequences. Many
premature babies will need special care in
the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The
risks are greatest for babies born before 32
weeks of pregnancy. In general, the more
mature a baby is at birth, the better his
chances are at survival and being healthy.

What you can do to

promote a healthy, fullterm pregnancy:

If you are at an increased

risk for preterm labor:

Seek regular prenatal care

Take preventive medications

Eat a healthy diet

Restrict sexual activity

Gain weight wisely

Manage chronic conditions

Avoid risky substances

Consider pregnancy spacing


Lowdermilk, D. & Perry S. (2013). Maternity & Womens Health Care (8 ed.). St. Louis: Mosby.
ATI Maternal Newborn Nursing: Chapter 10
Mayo Clinic. (2012). Preterm Labor. Retrieved March 5, 2014, from

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