How will I know when I’m going into labor?

It can be difficult to know for certain if you’re going into labor. Knowing some of the signs of preterm labor, however, can help you know when to get treatment that can reduce the risk of contractions, or the contractions themselves.

When can a woman go into preterm labor?

Preterm labor is labor that begins before 37 weeks in pregnancy, and birth between weeks 20 to 37 is considered preterm.

Does preterm labor always lead to preterm birth?

Preterm labor doesn’t always lead to preterm birth. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that roughly 10% of women who go into preterm labor give birth in seven days or less, and also that preterm labor stops on its own for 30% of women.

What are the signs of preterm labor?

The signs that a woman is going into preterm labor are:

  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting
  • Pressure or pain in the lower abdomen or back, or pelvic pressure (this would be from the baby pressing down)
  • The sensation of menstrual cramps
  • Persistent contractions that are regular and are increasing in frequency and severity, especially contractions which come 10 minutes apart or more often
  • Persistent, leaky discharge or large gush of fluid that indicates that your water has broken and your membranes have ruptured in preparation for labor

What should I do if I think I’m going into labor?

If you are experiencing these symptoms, you’ll want to call your healthcare provider, who can give you tests to determine if your body is, in fact, going into preterm labor. These tests may include:

  • A speculum exam to evaluate for cervical dilation and rupture of membranes
  • A pelvic exam, to measure the dilation of the cervix
  • A transvaginal ultrasound to measure cervical length – though not done routinely, during labor at a specific gestational age, a doctor may conduct a transvaginal ultrasound
  • Measurement of fetal fibronectin, a protein connected to preterm birth

If it is determined that a woman is in preterm labor, her healthcare provider may be able to treat her with tocolytics, medications that can help delay preterm contractions for up to 48 hours. There are also a variety of treatments that can improve the health of a fetus that is delivered preterm.

Not all symptoms will be indicative of preterm labor – for example, a pregnant woman may feel pelvic pressure or changes in discharge at multiple points in her pregnancy without it being a sign of preterm labor. However, being aware of the signs of preterm labor increases a woman’s chances of receiving more immediate medical attention, which further protects both the mother and her baby.

  • “Signs of preterm labor.” MarchofDimes. March of Dimes Foundation, Jan 2013. Web.
  • “Preterm (Premature) Labor and Birth.” ACOG. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Sep 2015. Web.
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