Pregnant woman lying on a hospital bed with electronic monitor tracking health indicators.

Preterm Labor Signs & Symptoms

About 10% of babies born in the United States each year are born prematurely. While pregnancies can vary by a few weeks, the average pregnancy should last 40 weeks. These 40 weeks help ensure baby is fully developed before birth and lessens the likelihood for complications post-birth. If a baby is born before they are fully developed, they are likely to require extra nutrients and care to ensure they are strong enough to survive. To help keep baby safe, it is important to know exactly when premature labor can occur and what the signs are.

What is Preterm Labor?

Also known as “premature labor,” preterm labor is when the body prepares to give birth earlier than the expected date of delivery, or prior to 37 weeks of gestation. If a mother goes into preterm labor and does not carry the child to term, doctors will consider the birth preterm or premature, which present a number of potential health complications.

Fortunately, going into preterm labor does not guarantee that one will give birth preterm. Doctors can delay birth once the symptoms of preterm labor begin to manifest, and for some women, the body will halt preterm labor on its own. The longer a baby remains safely in its mother’s womb until the expected due date, the less likely an infant is to have health complications postpartum.

Often there is no known cause for preterm labor. Some of the identified risk factors of preterm labor to be familiar with are:

  • A family history of preterm labor
  • A previous preterm labor or birth
  • Being underweight or overweight
  • Health conditions such as diabetes, preeclampsia, or high blood pressure
  • Multiple pregnancy (twins, triplets, etc.)
  • Smoking, excessive alcohol intake, and illicit drug use
  • The presence of a fetal birth defect
  • Poor prenatal care
  • Short intervals between pregnancies
An image of a newborn infant.

Signs and Symptoms of Premature Labor

To halt premature labor in time, it is important to know and identify the symptoms.

1. Lower back ache: this ache is typically constant and rhythmic

2. Changes in vaginal discharge: excessively watery or mucus-like; increases in volume

3. Vaginal bleeding

4. Mild abdominal pain or cramps that may be accompanied by diarrhea

5. Regular contractions

6. Lower abdominal or pelvic pressure

7. Ruptured membrane (the water breaks)

Please contact your physician immediately should you experience any of these symptoms.

Can You Cord Blood Bank if Baby is Born Prematurely?

Umbilical cord blood banking can be performed if baby is born prematurely. However, Preterm Labor Signs have smaller volumes of cord blood, so it is important for physicians to maximize the amount of blood collected.

Newborn’s umbilical cord blood stem cells are currently being researched to help improve common medical complications associated with prematurity. Cerebral palsy is an example of this.


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