Is this Preterm Labor?

woman sitting on brown sofa near white radiator panel under glass window

Table of Contents

Identifying the Signs of Preterm Labor

Perhaps you have experienced several hours of cramping and you are nowhere near your due date.

How can you tell if this is preterm labor?

What should you do about it?

When should you call your care provider?

Are there any ways to prevent preterm labor?

Find out all you need to know about preterm labor as well as how to identify the signs of preterm labor.

Preterm labor by definition is labor which occurs between 20 and 37 weeks of pregnancy. There are a number of possible reasons that preterm labor may occur. Some experts believe that infection could trigger labor to begin early. Others believe preterm labor may have its roots in hormones such as prostaglandins being secreted in the mother’s body to trigger contractions.

Other theories suggest that the mother’s stress level may even contribute to causing preterm labor contractions to start. The problem is that none of these causes explain every situation. It may in fact be that there are a number of reasons why mothers experience preterm labor.

How can you identify the signs of preterm labor?

Symptoms of preterm labor include:

  1. Pelvic pressure (that may feel like the baby is pressing down in your abdomen or rectum)
  2. Low, dull back pain
  3. Cramping (may feel like menstrual cramps)
  4. Uterine contractions that occur 10 minutes or closer together, with or without discomfort
  5. Intestinal cramping with or without diarrhea.

If you are having any of these symptoms of preterm labor, what should you do?

  1. Lie down on your left side for at least one hour
  2. Drink 2-3, 8 ounce glasses of water or juice
  3. Watch for contractions to subside
  4. If symptoms continue, call your care provider or go to the hospital
  5. If symptoms subside, resume light activity (but not what you had been doing when contractions started)
  6. If symptoms return, call your care provider or go to the hospital
  7. If any of the following signs occur, call your care provider immediately:
  • Contractions occurring every 5 minutes or less
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Vaginal discharge with an odor
  • Fluid leaking from the vagina

If you are diagnosed with preterm labor, it can affect the rest of your pregnancy quite drastically. You may be placed on bed rest either at home or in the hospital for the remainder of your pregnancy. You may be asked to monitor your contractions while at home.

You will likely be required to limit or avoid activities such as long car rides, heavy housework, standing more than 50% of the time, climbing stairs, carrying heavy loads such as groceries and laundry as well as limiting or avoiding sexual activity. Bed rest for many weeks at a time can be very challenging.

You may need to find activities such as reading, using your computer, knitting, writing letters, talking on the phone, etc. to occupy yourself for all of those weeks remaining in your pregnancy.

If you are treated for preterm labor in the hospital, your care provider may recommend a course of drugs called tocolytics which include medications such as magnesium sulfate, terbutaline and ritodrine.

These tocolytics suppress uterine activity and can reduce your contractions by relaxing the smooth muscles in your body. They can cause some unpleasant side effects including jitteriness, apprehension and headaches. Tocolytics can also cause negative health effects for the mother including swelling and reduced blood pressure.


While there is no proven way to prevent preterm labor, it is very important to respond to the signs your body is telling you that may be indications of preterm labor. When in doubt, it is best to contact your care provider since every week that your baby can remain inside your uterus is a benefit to you both.

Did you have preterm labor?

How did it affect you?

Share your story on the comments below

Leave a Reply