Pre-Term Labor and Birth

When birth occurs between 20 and 37 weeks of pregnancy, it is called preterm, or premature, birth.

Preterm labor begins with contractions of the uterus before 37 weeks of pregnancy that cause the cervix to thin out and open up

Preterm birth complications are the leading cause of death among children under 5 years of age.

Premature births account for 11.1 percent of live births worldwide, including 60 percent from South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

In 2014, preterm birth affected about 10 percent infants born in the United States.

It is a global health problem.

A baby born too early may face some issues, for example:

  • Breathing problems

  • Feeding difficulties

  • Cerebral palsy

  • Developmental delay

  • Vision problems

  • Hearing impairment


Most preterm births happen spontaneously, but some are due to early induction of labor or caesarean birth, whether for medical or non-medical reasons.

Common causes of preterm birth include:

  • Multiple pregnancies

  • Infections

  • Chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure

  • However, often no cause is identified.

To prevent this condition, here are some steps:

  • Get prenatal care as soon as you think you may be pregnant and throughout the pregnancy

  • Quit smoking.

  • Avoid alcohol and illicit drugs

  • Seek medical attention for any warning signs or symptoms of preterm labor.

Warning signs of preterm labor:

  • Uterine contractions every 10 min or 6 contractions or more per hour

  • Menstrual-like cramps

  • Persistent low, dull backache

  • Pelvic heaviness

  • Intestinal cramps or diarrhea

  • Increased vaginal discharge (watery, brown, red or with more mucus)

What you should do if you think you’re experiencing one (or more) of these warning signs:

  • Stop what you’re doing

  • Drink 4 glasses of water

  • Rest on your left side

  • Call your doctor or midwife.

How to time your contractions:


© The Family Way Publications, Inc.





4-Maternity and Women’s Health Care, 10th Edition by Kathryn Rhodes Alden, EdD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, Deitra Leonard Lowdermilk, RNC, PhD, FAAN, Mary Catherine Cashion, RN, BC, MSN and Shannon E. Perry, RN, PhD, FAAN (2012)

5-Recent Trends in Infant Mortality in the United States by Marian F. MacDorman, Ph.D., and T.J. Mathews M.S. (2008)

6-Maternal mortality and related concepts. (2007) Hoyert DL