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Signs and Symptoms of Premature Labor

Am I in Labor?

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Updated April 26, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

When you're pregnant, having any symptoms of premature labor can be very scary! Some contractions and other symptoms are normal effects of pregnancy, so it can be hard to decide if what you're feeling is normal or not. To be safe, report any signs of preterm labor to your doctor right away.

Signs of Premature Labor

Any of the following signs may mean that you are in premature labor:

  • More than 6 contractions per hour: It's normal for your uterus to contract, or tighten, as your pregnancy progresses. Contractions that happen more than about every 10 minutes, though, could be a sign of preterm labor.
  • Change in vaginal discharge: If you notice that you are leaking clear, watery fluid or if you have any bloody discharge late in your pregnancy, let your doctor know right away. You may have preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM) or bloody show from early labor.
  • Cramping: Early labor may feel like the cramps you feel during your period. Abdominal cramps (with or without diarrhea) may also be a sign of premature labor.
  • Backache: A low backache may be a sign of preterm labor. The backache may come and go or be steady, and is usually a dull ache.
  • Pelvic pressure: Women in premature labor may feel low-down pelvic pressure, as if the baby is pressing down on the cervix.

What to Do If You Think You're in Premature Labor

If you are showing signs of premature labor, call your doctor or midwife right away. He or she may ask you to drink some water or lie down to see if your symptoms go away on their own. You may also be asked to come into the office or go to the hospital to get checked out.

If you are in premature labor, then doctors will try to stop your labor, or at least slow it down for long enough to give you steroids for your baby's lung development or to get you to a hospital that has a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Sources

The American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology. "Labor, Delivery, and Postpartum Care: Premature Labor" Accessed Jan. 20, 2010 from http://www.acog.org/publications/patient_education/bp087.cfm

March of Dimes. "If You're Pregnant: Signs and Symptoms of Premature Labor and What to Do" Accessed Jan. 20, 2010 from http://www.marchofdimes.com/prematurity/21239_5809.asp

University of California San Francisco Children's Hospital. "Recognizing Premature Labor" Accessed Jan. 20, 2010 from http://www.ucsfhealth.org/adult/edu/recognizing_premature_labor/index.html

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