Everything you need to know about preterm labor

Expecting mothers often fear going into labor before their due date and experience preterm labor. What is preterm labor? What causes preterm labor? Keep reading to find out.

Cherifa Sharaf
Published on:Apr 24th 2022 |Updated on:May 10th 2024
الولادة المبكرة

 There has been a slight increase in the number of preterm deliveries, a little more than before.

This increase is due to the following reasons:

1- Women are getting married and having babies at an older age than before.

2- The increase of obesity and overweight cases because of unhealthy diets and lack of physical activity and exercise. Women who are overweight are more prone to health complications during pregnancy such as gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension, preeclampsia, and the increased chance of delivery complications in vaginal and cesarean delivery.

3- The advancements in fertility treatments made it possible for women to get pregnant at an older age.

4- The increase in multiple pregnancies due to fertility treatment.

Other causes of preterm labor include:

- Pregnancy at a younger age less than 21.

- Severe infections like dental or urine infections.

- Congenital anomalies in the uterus

- And in almost 40 to 50 percent of cases, the reason remains unknown!

When is labor considered preterm?

The best answer to what is preterm labor question is that it is labor happening before the thirty-seventh week of pregnancy or the first week in the ninth month of pregnancy.

Signs of early labor

1- Repeated cramps

Repeated abdominal pain similar to period cramps is one of the obvious signs of going into labor early. If felt the expecting mother needs to seek medical assistance immediately.

2- The “Show” discharge

This discharge is a mix of blood and mucus which is the plug of the cervix, if this happens before the thirty-seventh week it is a sign of early labor as well.

3- Water breaking

4- Severe lower back pain  

5- An urge to have a bowel movement

Medical interventions

These are different depending on how far the pregnancy is. At the thirty-fourth week of pregnancy (the middle of the eighth month), we usually don’t stop labor. At this stage, the baby can be born without any complications and without needing an incubator. However, when labor starts before the thirty-first week or the thirty-second week, it is stopped for a short period until the mother is injected with medications that accelerate the growth of the baby’s lungs, and until the medication does its effect. The survival of the fetus depends on the quality of medical care available, and other factors that affect birth between the twenty-second and twenty-eighth week at different rates.

Different cases of preterm labor

- In case of the complete discharge of the amniotic fluid, even if the pregnancy is as young as twenty-eight weeks, then the only solution is the delivery of the baby.

- If preterm labor is happening because of an issue in the cervix then we measure the cervix and perform cervical cerclage, to postpone the delivery to allow the fetus to grow.

- When the water partially breaks, the expecting mother is given medications to postpone the delivery, while at the same time treating any existing infections.

- If the pregnant lady has a history of preterm deliveries, in this case, she is treated from the beginning of the pregnancy before any signs of preterm labor happen. An expecting mother with a history of preterm deliveries needs to have any existing infections treated as they might increase the chances of early labor.

Consequences of preterm labor

1- Placing the baby in an incubator.

2- The mother bleeding excessively.

3- Infections.

4- Hypertension.

Misconceptions about delivering early

There are many misconceptions about women’s health and reproductive health, some of these misconceptions are about preterm labor. For example, we often hear that having the baby in the seventh month of pregnancy is safer than in the eighth month. This is just a baseless statement! Each additional week the fetus spends inside the womb, increases the chances of its survival, and not needing the incubator.

A word on maternal health

I would like to end this article by highlighting the importance of maternal health. An expecting mother needs to prioritize her health. She must maintain a healthy weight, as this is an essential factor in her health, her baby’s, and her pregnancy. I must emphasize the importance of prenatal care and prenatal visits, without disregarding any part of the medical history, and consulting the doctor about any health issue to get sound medical advice and proper treatment.


Also read All your questions on covid vaccine and pregnancy answered



Cherifa SharafObstetrics & Gynecology Consultant

Consultant of obstetrics, gynecology & Infertility, with years of experience in women’s healthcare. Dr.Cherifa is practicing at Qasr El Eyni Hospital/ Cairo University in addition to several other hospitals and centers in Cairo Egypt. She holds a Ph.D. in medicine from Cairo University in addition to the European Diploma of Operative Gynecology from Clermont-Ferrand, France, and Diploma of Management of Infertility from Antoine Béclère Faculty of Medicine Paris, France. Dr. Cherifa is very passionate about providing the appropriate health care to women and believes the overall health of a woman is key to her reproductive and maternal health. She is a strong believer in the importance of raising women’s awareness and educating them about everything related to health in general and reproductive health in particular.

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