Preterm Labor

With pregnancy, sometimes the unexpected can occur. But don’t worry. The expert team at Banner Health is here to help you navigate anything and everything that may arise during your pregnancy—including preterm labor.  

What Is Preterm Labor?

Preterm labor, also called premature labor, is when your body goes into labor (your cervix opens) early in your pregnancy. Preterm labor happens after week 20 of your pregnancy but before week 37.

Preterm labor can lead to a premature birth, but doctors can often delay delivery.

What Causes Preterm Labor?

There is no clear cause of preterm labor but there are many different things that may increase your risk. These risk factors include:

  • Previous preterm birth
  • Being pregnant with multiple babies
  • Getting pregnant again too soon after having a baby
  • Smoking, drinking or using drugs
  • Problems with your cervix, uterus or placenta
  • Certain infections
  • Stress
  • Poor prenatal care
  • Carrying a baby with certain birth defects
  • Health conditions such as high blood pressure, preeclampsia, diabetes or certain autoimmune diseases.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Preterm Labor?

If you experience any of these signs or symptoms, contact your doctor right away:

  • Contractions
  • Lower backache
  • Cramping – may feel like menstrual cramps or gas pain
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • A feeling of pressure in your lower abdomen or vagina
  • Your water breaks

What Happens During Preterm Labor?

First, your doctor will evaluate your symptoms and test you for preterm labor. Tests and procedures may include:

  • Pelvic Exam
  • Ultrasound
  • Lab tests such as testing vaginal fluids and urine

If you are diagnosed with premature labor, the focus will be on keeping you and your baby safe with the goal of stopping or delaying the labor. Treatments may include:

  • IV Fluids
  • Medication to relax your uterus and slow contractions
  • Medication to promote baby’s lung growth

If you have a short cervix, your doctor may recommend a surgical procedure called a cervical cerclage. In this procedure, your cervix is stitched closed with strong sutures. The sutures will be removed after week 36.

What Happens After Preterm Labor?

If your labor is not able to be stopped, you will deliver your baby prematurely. Babies born prematurely will usually need to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The length of their stay will be determined by when the baby was delivered and the baby’s health needs. Learn more about the NICU at Banner Health.

How to Prevent Preterm Labor

While some risk factors may be out of your  control, there are some things you can do to lower your risk for preterm labor:

  • Maintain a healthy weight before and during your pregnancy
  • Take precautions against infections
  • Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or use recreational drugs
  • Follow proper prenatal care
  • Reduce your stress levels
  • Don’t get pregnant again for at least 18 months after giving birth

If you have questions or concerns about preterm labor or want to learn more about how to reduce your risk, talk to your doctor.