More than 12 percent of babies are born prematurely (before 37 weeks). About a quarter of these births are intentional, meaning that a medical team decides to induce labor early or perform a c-section because of a serious medical condition such as severe or worsening preeclampsia or because the baby has stopped growing.
The rest are known as spontaneous preterm births. You may have a spontaneouspreterm birth if prior to 37 weeks you go into labor, your water breaks, or your cervix dilates with no contractions.
While there are some known risk factors for preterm labor, such as having certain genital tract infections, placental problems, or cervical insufficiency, in many cases no one knows what causes a woman to go into labor before term. So it's important for all pregnant women to learn the signs of premature labor and what to do if it happens to you.
Call your midwife or doctor right away if you're having any of the following symptoms before 37 weeks:
-An increase in vaginal discharge.
-A change in the type of discharge – if it becomes watery, mucus-like, or bloody (even if it's pink or just tinged with blood)
-Any vaginal bleeding or spotting
-Abdominal pain, menstrual-like cramping, or more than four contractions in one hour (even if they don't hurt)
-An increase in pressure in the pelvic area (a feeling that your baby is pushing down)
-Low back pain, especially if you didn't previously have back pain.
These symptoms can be confusing because some of them, such as pelvic pressure or low back pain, occur during normal pregnancies too, and early contractions may just be harmless Braxton Hicks contractions. But it's always better to be safe than sorry, so call your midwife or doctor right away if you're experiencing anything unusual.