Preterm Labour

Go to the hospital right away if you think you're in preterm labour.

Preterm (premature) labour is labour that starts before 37 weeks of pregnancy. A normal pregnancy lasts 37 to 42 weeks.

Symptoms:

  • Bad cramps or stomach pains that don't go away
  • Bleeding, trickle or gush of fluid from your vagina
  • Lower back pain/pressure, or a change in lower backache
  • A feeling that the baby is pushing down
  • Contractions, or change in the strength or number of them
  • An increase in the amount of vaginal discharge

When to seek medical care:

  • Fever, chills, dizziness, vomiting or a bad headache
  • Blurry vision or spots before your eyes
  • Sudden or severe swelling of your feet, hands or face
  • A significant change in your baby's movement

What is preterm labour?

A normal pregnancy lasts 37 to 42 weeks. Preterm (premature) labour is labour that starts before 37 weeks of pregnancy.

How does it affect my baby?

Preterm labour may lead to a preterm birth, which means your baby is born too soon.

In the short term, preterm babies:

  • may have trouble breathing, feeding, and keeping warm
  • may be more likely to get infections
  • may need special care in the hospital
  • may have to stay in the hospital after their mother goes home
  • are at a higher risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) (external link)

In the long term, preterm babies are at risk for:

  • blindness
  • difficulty walking
  • problems learning

Some preterm babies are born very early and may not be strong enough to live.

Could this happen to me?

Yes, preterm labour can happen to anyone.

Even if you are healthy and do "all the right things", there is still a chance that preterm labour can happen to you. Medical experts do not know all the reasons why labour starts too early.

You may be at higher risk of preterm birth if you:

  • Have had a preterm baby before
  • Have had no prenatal care with a physician or midwife
  • Are carrying more than one baby, for example twins
  • Smoke
  • Are underweight
  • Are not getting enough healthy food
  • Are under a lot of stress
  • Have a vaginal or bladder infection
  • Have had several miscarriages
  • Do strenuous work
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These things can help prevent preterm labour:

  • Seek prenatal care with your health care provider as early as possible (before 12 weeks) in the pregnancy and go to every appointment
  • Go to prenatal classes early in your pregnancy
  • If you smoke, try to quit or at least cut down
  • Take time to lie down or put your feet up during the day
  • Eat nutritionally during pregnancy
  • Listen to your body - notice when things feel "different" and talk to your doctor/midwife about it
  • Talk to your doctor/midwife about how to deal with the stress in your life
  • Learn about and be aware of the signs and symptoms of preterm labour
  • Go to the hospital if you have signs and symptoms related to preterm labour
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It can be hard to know if you are having symptoms of preterm labour. Many of the signs of preterm labour can feel the same as some of the normal things that happen in the second half of pregnancy. There are important signs to watch for, especially if they are new or different from before.

Signs & symptoms of pre-term labour:

  • Bad cramps or stomach pains that don't go away
  • Bleeding, trickle or gush of fluid from your vagina
  • Lower back pain/pressure, or a change in lower backache
  • A feeling that the baby is pushing down
  • Contractions, or change in the strength or number of them
  • An increase in the amount of vaginal discharge

You may just feel that "something is not right".

Preterm labour contractions feel different from the normal tightening that is often felt in the second half of pregnancy:

  • They may feel more regular,
  • They do not go away if you move around or lie down
  • There may be other signs that happen with the contractions, such as fluid leaking from the vagina or pelvic pressure

You also need medical care if you have:

  • Fever, chills, dizziness, vomiting or a bad headache
  • Blurry vision or spots before your eyes
  • Sudden or severe swelling of your feet, hands or face
  • A significant change in your baby's movement
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GO TO THE HOSPITAL RIGHT AWAY!

  • You need to be assessed to confirm if you are in pre-term labour.
  • You can call your own doctor or midwife once you get to the hospital. If you cannot drive yourself, ask a neighbour or friend to help. If you cannot get to the hospital right away, call the birthing unit at your hospital for advice.
  • It's important to get to the hospital early if you're in pre-term labour - it can make a big difference to your baby's health.

Source: Region of Peel Public Health (external link)

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