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Preterm Labour

Learn about the signs and symptoms of preterm labour and how to lower your risk of a preterm birth.

What is Preterm Labour?

Preterm labour, also known as premature labour, starts before 37 weeks of pregnancy and can happen to anyone. A normal pregnancy lasts 37 to 42 weeks. Preterm labour may lead to preterm birth, resulting in your baby being born too soon.

  • Have had a preterm baby before
  • Have had no prenatal care with a health care provider
  • Carry more than one baby such as twins
  • Smoke
  • Have had several miscarriages
  • Do strenuous work
  • Are under a lot of stress
  • Are underweight
  • Have a vaginal or bladder infection
  • Trouble breathing, feeding and keeping warm
  • May require special care and are more likely to get infections
  • A higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Blindness and difficulty walking or learning

What are the signs and symptoms of preterm labour?

Are you experiencing these symptoms?

Are you experiencing these symptoms?

Bad cramps or stomach pains that won't go away

A generalized tightening of your uterus

Bleeding or fluid from your vagina or increased vaginal discharge

Your abdomen becomes very hard and contorted (almost pointy)

Lower back pain/pressure or a change in back pain

Irregular and infrequent contractions that last 30 seconds to 2 minutes

A significant change in your baby's movement or the feeling of them pushing down

Contractions subside if you change positions or activity

Contractions, or change in the strength or number of them

Contractions stop after an hour or so

Fever, chills, dizziness, vomiting or bad headache

Contractions are mild and do not increase in severity

Blurry vision or spots before your eyes

Contractions are felt in the front

Sudden or severe swelling of your feet, hands or face



Go to the hospital right away! If you are in preterm labour, seeking medical help right away can make a big difference to your baby's health.


You are most likely experiencing this common condition as your body prepares for real labour. These contractions can start as early as your second trimester.


How do I lower my risk of having preterm labour?

  • Start prenatal care as soon as possible during your pregnancy and see your doctor or midwife regularly during pregnancy
  • Start prenatal classes early in your pregnancy
  • Limit smoking or quit!
  • Take time to lie down and put your feet up everyday
  • Eat healthy during your pregnancy
  • Listen to your body and notice when things feel “different”
  • Talk to your health care provider about how to limit stress in your life
  • Be aware of the signs of preterm labour

Got a question? Connect with our team of public health nurses: