Preterm is defined as babies born before 37 weeks of the pregnancy.¹
It is estimated that approximately 60,000 babies are born prematurely in the UK every year.²
This means that 1 in every 13 babies born in the UK will be born premature.²
In the UK 140,000 women exhibit signs and symptoms of preterm labour per year but less than 5% go on to deliver within 14 days.³
Preterm labour usually starts by itself. The reasons why labour starts early are often unknown, although there is a greater chance of this happening for women who have had a preterm baby or a late miscarriage before.⁴
Around 25% of preterm births are planned because of maternal factors such as pre‑eclampsia, or fetal factors such as extreme growth restriction. But most preterm births occur because labour starts early naturally.⁵
The signs of premature labour can be similar to the signs of labour that starts at full term, and may include:⁶
- – Either a slow trickle or a gush of clear or pinkish fluid from the vagina or any increase in vaginal discharge
- – Backache
- – Cramps like strong period pains
- – A frequent need to urinate
- – A feeling of pressure in the pelvis
- – Nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
If you are experiencing symptoms of preterm labour, your doctor or midwife can determine if your risk of preterm birth is real or perhaps quite low. Sometimes the symptoms are real but the risk isn’t – many women present with signs and symptoms of preterm labour but do not go on to deliver preterm. Fetal fibronectin (fFN) testing can precisely measure your true risk of preterm labour.
Even if you don’t have any known risks, you should contact your doctor or midwife if you have any of the warning signs of preterm labour.
Being aware of your risk for preterm labour can help you take a more active role in your pregnancy and your baby’s health, and you may want to ask for a fetal fibronectin test based on your risk factors. Together, you and your doctor or midwife can use this knowledge to work out a plan.
The causes of preterm birth are not fully understood, although there are some related risk factors.
If you have any of these risk factors, it’s especially important for you to know the symptoms of preterm labour and what to do if they occur.
Biological Risk Factors⁷
- – Previous preterm labour or preterm birth: Women who have had a premature baby before or who have experienced symptoms of preterm labour in a previous pregnancy.
- – Twins or triplets: Women who are pregnant with twins, triplets or more are at an increased risk because of the added weight and pressure.
- – Cervical abnormalities: These can be detected by your healthcare provider and could be inherent issues (such as a short cervix) or a result of previous cervical surgeries.
- – In vitro fertilization (IVF): The same underlying health conditions that can make IVF necessary may also put some women at increased risk for preterm labour.
- – A variety of other health conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure and clotting disorders (thrombophilia)
- – Women younger than 17 or older than 35
- – Urinary tract infections, vaginal infections and/or sexually transmitted infections
- – Certain birth defects in the baby
- – Being underweight before pregnancy
- – Obesity
- – Short time period between pregnancies (less than 6 to 9 months between one birth and the beginning of the next pregnancy)
Lifestyle and environmental risk factors⁷
- – Late or no prenatal care
- – Smoking
- – Drinking alcohol
- – Using illegal drugs or abusing prescription drugs
- – Domestic violence, including physical, sexual or emotional abuse
- – Lack of social support
- – Stress
- – Long working hours with long periods of standing
- – Exposure to certain environmental pollutants