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Preterm Labor Symptoms

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When you're worried about preterm labor, every twinge or ache can seem like a potential sign of a problem. In many cases, these symptoms subside on their own, but because premature birth can have lifelong health effects for the child, it's a good idea to take any signs of preterm labor seriously. If you've delivered prematurely before, have medical problems affecting the reproductive tract or are carrying multiples, you might be at higher risk for preterm labor, so paying attention to your body's signals is essential.

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Unusual Discharge

When vaginal discharge changes abruptly in the last few months of pregnancy, this can indicate the potential onset of early labor. While a change to pink or red discharge can be obvious, alterations in vaginal discharge can also be more subtle. Increases in the amount of discharge and changes in the consistency or type of discharge can be an early signal that labor is starting before you've reached your full term.

Back and Abdominal Pain

Dull aching cramps in the lower abdomen, similar to menstrual cramps, are a potential symptom of early labor. For some women, these cramps feel rhythmic, while in others they come and go randomly or occur continuously for a long time. Abdominal pain that feels like intestinal gas might also be a sign of early labor. Backaches centered in the lower back are another common complaint in women who are experiencing preterm labor.


While many women experience random contractions during the last few months of pregnancy, contractions that become rhythmic and regular are a sign of possible preterm labor. Women who experience contractions before 37 weeks gestation should monitor how often they occur and the time between each contraction. More than five contractions per hour or contractions that occur closer than 15 minutes apart are potentially problematic.

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Responding to Symptoms

If you notice preterm labor symptoms or have concerns that the birth process might be starting early, call your doctor or head to the hospital for evaluation. It could be a false alarm, and even if it is preterm labor, your doctor might be able to halt the process and give the baby more time to develop before delivery. In some cases, preterm labor might even stop on its own. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, about half of women who experience preterm labor don't go on to deliver prematurely but instead maintain the pregnancy until at least 37 weeks gestation.

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