Having a full-term pregnancy is best for your baby's health. Full-term pregnancies usually last about 40 weeks.
When a baby is born earlier than 37 weeks, it's called a preterm or premature birth. Babies who are born early can have health problems that may last their whole lives.
Can Early Labor Be Prevented?
Some women are more likely to go into labor early. Those with a short or weak cervix (the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina) or who have had a premature baby before are more likely to go into labor early. In these cases, the doctor may recommend treatments such as:
Women who are having twins also are more likely to go into labor early. These treatments can't prevent early labor if you're carrying more than one baby.
What if Labor Starts Early?
Moms who think they're in labor or are having contractions (belly pains or cramps) should call their doctor or midwife right away. If there's any bleeding or your water breaks (which can be an on-and-off leak, a steady leak, or a gush of fluid), it's important to get to a hospital right away.
If labor starts early, it's best to go to a hospital that has a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Hospitals with a NICU specialize in treating preterm babies. Care for someone in preterm labor can include:
Doctors won't try to stop contractions if the baby is more than 34 weeks and the lungs are developed, or if there are worries about the mother's or baby's health.
What Can I Do?
Preterm birth can't always be prevented. But you can help lower your chances of going into labor too soon. Here's the best advice:
If you're pregnant or planning to become pregnant, meet with your doctor. Women who get regular prenatal care are more likely to have a healthier pregnancy and baby.