Premature birth: the warning signs

Symptoms that could indicate you're going to give birth before 36 weeks.

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Most pregnancies last until at least 37 weeks, but around 7% of babies arrive earlier.

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A premature delivery often can’t be avoided so what signs should you be looking out for if you think your baby might be born prematurely?

The following are all warning signs, so if you experience any of them during your pregnancy, call your midwife straightaway.

  • Any unusual discharge, such as blood, clear watery liquid (it could be your waters breaking or leaking), or blood-tinged mucus (it could be a ‘show’ – the mucus plug that corks your cervix – coming free).
  • Period-like pains in your back or thighs for more than half a day. 
  • Abdominal pain
  • A burning sensation when you wee (it could be a sign of a urinary tract infection).
  • Blurred vision or flashing lights, sudden swelling, severe headaches or pain in the top of your abdomen (these can be signs of pre-eclampsia).
  • Contractions. From 20 weeks onwards, many mums-to-be experience Braxton Hicks ‘practice’ contractions, when the womb seems to harden for a minute or so every 15 minutes. But if the contractions come more often and last longer, you may be going into labour. If you can’t get hold of your midwife, head to hospital.

What happens if I go into labour early?

Don’t panic, doctors can try to stop it. First they’ll work out why labour has started by checking your heart rate and blood pressure, giving you an internal exam and taking vaginal swabs and a urine sample. They may also give you an ultrasound.

If your premature labour is caused by an infection, they will identify and treat it. 

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If you are less than 35 weeks pregnant, they’ll give you steroids to mature your baby’s lungs. They will also prescribe drugs to delay labour temporarily, giving the steroids time to work. You won’t be given the drugs for long as they have side-effects, but a delay of just 48 hours could really help your baby.

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