Premature Birth: Signs and treatment of pre-term labor

Back to Premature Births

Premature Birth: Signs and treatment of pre-term labor

Premature labor is when labor starts before a baby’s due date. Generally, labor before 38 weeks gestation is considered preterm. All women should be aware of the signs of preterm labor. Even if you are not recognized as having a high risk pregnancy, you are still at risk, as many of the causes of preterm birth are still unknown. Signs and symptoms of preterm labor can include, but are not limited to, the following. If you experience any of these symptoms, or feel that something is “not right”, seek medical advice.

Signs and Symptoms


Contractions that are painful or regular may be a sign of preterm labor.

Ruptured Membranes

This could mean a gush of fluid or may just be a trickle of watery fluid. This could indicate that your water has broken.


Menstrual-like cramps could indicate labor.

Back Pain

Pain in the lower back


A feeling of the baby pushing down, pelvic pressure.

Vaginal Discharge

Leaking fluid, blood or a “show” of mucus from the vagina may indicate preterm labor.

Treatment of Preterm labor

If preterm labor is determined, there are a number of treatments that can be used to stop or delay the labor. These include bed rest, hydration and tablets (nifedipine) which can help to slow or stop labor.

If it appears that birth is imminent and the baby is between 24 and 34 weeks gestation, you will be offered two steroid injections 12 hours apart in an attempt to increase the baby’s lung and brain development. Ideally, steroids are given at least 24 hours before birth as they can take this long to be effective.

Although bed rest, fluids and labor-inhibiting medications including steroids may be prescribed, these attempts often merely offer a short delay in the delivery to allow maternity care providers to do what they can to support the baby’s lungs maturing and, if necessary, transfer the mother to a hospital that is better equipped for premature babies, such as one with a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).


Laws PJ, Grayson N & Sullivan EA 2006. Australia’s mothers and babies 2004. Perinatal statistics series no. 18. AIHW cat. no. PER 34. Sydney: AIHW National Perinatal Statistics Unit.

Southeast Missouri Hospital. High Risk Pregnancy. Retrieved September 10, 2007, from

Tomasulo J.P., & Lubetkin D. (Ed.). Premature Birth. Retrieved September 17, 2007, from