The normal length of a pregnancy is 40 weeks. In most pregnancies, labor starts between 37 and 42 weeks after your last menstrual period. When labor begins before the 37th week of your pregnancy, it is considered preterm labor. There are many reasons for preterm labor; however, in most cases the exact cause of early labor is not known.
Because serious illness or death can occur if a baby is born too early, it is important to be alert to the warning signs of preterm labor. In many cases, these warning signs are fairly easy to detect.
If any of these warning signs occurs, don't wait - call your doctor's office (or go to the hospital).
In many cases, if preterm labor is found early, delivery can be prevented or postponed through the use of medication and by curtailing activities. This extra time is important for the healthy development of your baby.
Some women are at greater risk for preterm labor than others. Risk factors for preterm labor include:
If you are at risk for preterm labor, be sure to get early prenatal care and follow a healthy diet and exercise plan. Talk with your doctor about changes you can make to your lifestyle and your daily routine to help prevent preterm labor. You may need to restrict travel, exercise, or sexual activity as your pregnancy progresses.
You may also need to see your doctor more often for exams and tests and may need to monitor yourself for signs of uterine activity after about 20 weeks of your pregnancy. Your doctor will explain how to monitor the outside feel of your uterus and to keep track of any contractions you experience. You may also be given progesterone to prevent contractions from occurring or intensifying.
There are things you can do to have a healthy pregnancy: