Maternal and Infant Health Program Maternal and Infant Health Program

  SLC area: (801) 273-2871

  SLC area: (801) 274-0674

  Maternal and Infant Health Program
  P.O. Box 142002
  Salt Lake City UT

Recognizing & Preventing Preterm Labor

The uterus is a muscular organ designed to hold and nurture the growing baby. During the first trimester of pregnancy the uterus begins to contract. These contractions continue throughout the pregnancy in a painless, irregular manner. Some women are aware of these contractions and others are not. In 1872, J. Braxton Hicks first described this phenomenon and so these contractions are now named for him. Braxton Hicks contractions normally do not lead to opening of the cervix to facilitate delivery. They are thought to strengthen the uterine muscles and ready them for the normal labor process.

At some point, normally between 37 and 42 weeks of pregnancy, something still unknown changes these contractions so that they begin to soften and open the cervix, eventually leading to the baby’s birth. If contractions lead to delivery before 37 weeks of pregnancy, this is considered premature or preterm labor.

Babies who are born preterm are much more likely to have problems, even problems that will effect them later in life. Although much research has been done to try and determine who will experience preterm labor and early delivery, no answer has yet been found.

Some women are at greater risk for having preterm labor:

  • Women whose most recent pregnancy ended in a preterm delivery
  • Women who are younger than 18 or older than 35
  • Women who have strenuous, physical jobs
  • Women who have had repeat pregnancy terminations
  • Women who are carrying more than one baby

Signs and symptoms of preterm labor:

  • Menstrual-like cramping (after the 1st trimester)
  • A low dull backache or pain, or change in the nature of a backache
  • A new feeling of pressure in the hips, upper legs or groin
  • Changes in the color, character or amount of vaginal discharge
  • Any new symptom (uterine contractions, diarrhea, nausea) that rhythmically comes and goes,  more often than 4 times an hour

What if I feel contractions more often than 4 times per hour?

  • Stop whatever activity you were doing when the contractions started
  • Drink 3 to 4 8-oz. glasses of water or other fluid
  • Rest on your left side
  • Continue to monitor contractions for an hour
  • If contractions do not slow or stop…call your health care provider or go to labor and delivery to be evaluated

Even if you have no risk for preterm labor, know the symptoms and get early and regular prenatal care. Pay attention to the your body. Be aware of what level of activity may make your uterus contract. And most importantly, know what actions to take if you experience the signs and symptoms of preterm labor.