Preterm Labor Signs

Because some women without any risk factors deliver their babies early, all pregnant women should know the signs of preterm labor. These signs are common and similar to normal pregnancy sensations, so watch for slight differences or changes. While it’s important to be aware of these signs, remember that only about 12 percent of women have preterm labor.

If you have two or more of these symptoms, call your caregiver immediately to help you decide whether you’re in preterm labor.

  • Uterine contractions that occur every ten minutes, or six contractions in one hour (Contractions come in waves as your uterus alternately tightens and softens; they don’t have to be painful. See page 136 to learn how to detect contractions.)
  • Continuous or intermittent menstrual-like cramps or pressure in your lower abdomen and thighs (pelvic heaviness)
  • Dull ache in your lower back that doesn’t go away when you change position
  • Intestinal cramping with or without diarrhea or loose stools
  • Sudden increase or change in vaginal discharge (watery, blood tinged, or with more thin mucus).
  • General feeling that something isn’t right

When checking for preterm contractions, think about your typical uterine activity and remember that contractions of irregular length and frequency are normal in pregnancy. Having persistent, fairly regular contractions for two hours (along with other signs) indicates labor.

Excerpted from: Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn

© copyright 2010 by Parent Trust for Washington Children with permission from its publisher Meadowbrook Press.