A normal full term pregnancy lasts forty weeks and preterm labor [PTL] is labor that begins before 37 completed weeks. Preterm labor can lead to premature birth, which often requires the infant to stay in the hospital for an extended time sometimes in neonatal intensive care. About 1 in 10 babies born in the U.S. are born preterm.
Preterm births account for about 75% of newborn deaths that are not related to birth defects. Preterm babies tend to grow slowly; they may have vision problems, impaired hearing, breathing and nervous system disorders, learning disabilities, or behavior problems later in life.
Many factors increase the risk of preterm birth. Patients at high risk include those that have preterm labor, premature rupture of the amniotic sac, bleeding in the second or third trimester, multiple fetuses (twins, triplets or more) or other medical complications which require a premature delivery for maternal reasons. Patients with a history of a prior preterm birth, second trimester pregnancy terminations, an abnormal cervix (incompetent), or an abnormal uterus are also at increased risk.
Preterm labor is usually not painful, however, there are warning signs such as vaginal discharge, vaginal bleeding, ruptured membranes, pelvic or lower abdominal pressure, dull backache, abdominal cramps, or regular contractions.
Patients with known risk factors for a preterm delivery or, with symptoms of preterm labor may be referred to a Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist for further evaluation and care.
More information from the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters
This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.