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Premature Labor

Premature labor is labor that begins before a woman has completed 37 weeks of pregnancy. 


It’s important to know the potential warning signs of premature labor (however, you could experience one or more of these symptoms and not be in premature labor):

  • Contractions every 10 minutes or more often (they are not necessarily painful, but are generally defined as discomfort below the bust and above the thighs that comes and goes)
  • Low, dull backache
  • Cramps that feel like your period
  • Cramps with or without diarrhea
  • Rupture of the amniotic sac 
  • Clear, pink or brownish fluid (water) leaking from your vagina
  • The feeling that your baby is pushing down
  • Cervical dilation (opening of the cervix)

If you think you’re having preterm labor or if you have any of the warning signs, call your healthcare provider (doctor, midwife or nurse) or go to the hospital right away. Call even if you have only one warning sign. Prompt attention can prevent preterm labor from progressing to a premature delivery.

What Causes Premature Labor?

Lifestyle Factors

According to the March of Dimes, studies have shown that certain lifestyle factors may put a woman at greater risk of preterm labor. These include:

  • Late or no prenatal care
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Using illegal drugs
  • High levels of stress

Medical Conditions of the Mother

Certain medical conditions during pregnancy also may increase the likelihood that a woman will have preterm labor. They include:

  • Preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy)
  • Chronic medical conditions such as heart or kidney disease
  • Urinary tract infections, vaginal infections, sexually transmitted infections and possibly other infections
  • Cervical incompetence (inability of the cervix to stay closed during pregnancy)
  • Being underweight before pregnancy
  • Abnormal structure of the uterus
  • Previous preterm birth
  • Clotting disorders
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity

Factors Involving the Pregnancy

  • Abnormal or decreased function of the placenta
  • Placenta previa (low lying position of the placenta)
  • Placental abruption (early detachment from the uterus)
  • Premature rupture of the membranes (amniotic sac)
  • Hydramnios (too much amniotic fluid)

Why is Preterm Labor a Concern?

Preterm labor may lead to the premature birth of an infant, well before the baby's bodies and organ systems have matured. These babies are small, less than 5.5 pounds, and may need help breathing, eating, fighting infection and staying warm. Among the complications associated with premature birth are:

  • Inability for infant to regulate their body temperature.
  • Respiratory problems, including chronic lung disease, apnea, air leaking out of normal lung space and more.
  • Cardiovascular problems such as blood pressure issues and low heart rate.
  • Blood and metabolic issues, including anemia, jaundice and immature kidneys
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as poor feeding and digestion
  • Neurologic problems including bleeding of the brain, poor muscle tone and seizures.

What is the Treatment for Premature Labor?

Patients' doctors will determine the specific treatment appropriate for a mother facing premature labor. Treatment may include:

  • Bed rest
  • Hospitalization
  • Medications
  • Cervical Cerclage
  • Antibiotics (to treat infections)
  • Delivery of infant


One of the most important preventive measures a pregnant woman can take is to get good prenatal care. Maternal weight gain and nutrition are linked to fetal weight gain and birth weight, and eating properly and taking prescribed vitamins will help to prevent premature labor. Additional factors include:

  • Identifying mothers at risk for premature labor.
  • Prenatal education
  • Avoiding heavy lifting and repetitive work such as standing for long periods of time.
  • Early identification and treatment of preterm labor.

Crozer Health 's board-certified, experienced obstetricians can help pregnant women maintain a healthy pregnancy, but if should the need arise for additional intervention, you may be referred to our team of perinatologists.

Request an Appointment

To request an appointment at a Crozer Health OB/GYN location, please complete our secure appointment form below or call 610-619-8300 during business hours.