Preterm Labor

A full-term pregnancy is considered to be between 39 and 41 weeks. When labor occurs and babies are born between 37 weeks and 39 weeks, the pregnancy is considered “early term.” Labor that begins earlier than normal (between 20 and 36 weeks) is called preterm labor, or commonly called premature labor. Babies born prematurely are not yet fully developed and can have serious problems with breathing, feeding and keeping warm. At Swedish, premature babies are expertly cared for around the clock in our Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Signs of Preterm Labor
• Pelvic pressure (a feeling of the baby moving down)
• Dull ache in the lower back
• Cramps with or without diarrhea
• A change or increase in vaginal discharge
• Contractions with or without pain

Contact your doctor immediately if you suspect preterm labor. Your doctor may recommend full or partial bed rest, and possibly the use of medications to stop contractions. Tests used to monitor and manage preterm labor may include ultrasound exams, blood tests and amniocentesis.

Risk Factors
About 12 percent of otherwise normal pregnancies involve preterm labor. Not all the reasons for preterm labor are known, but those considered at higher risk include women who:
• Have previously had preterm labor and deliveries
• Are overweight or underweight
• Are pregnant with twins or more babies
• Have certain abnormalities in the cervix or uterus including fibroids
• Become pregnant less than six months after the birth of their last child
• Became pregnant through in vitro fertilization

Risk factors also include chronic health conditions in the mother such as high blood pressure and diabetes.