Premature labour is when labour begins before you reach week 37 of your pregnancy.
Did you know: Around eight in 100 babies in the UK are born before 37 weeks.
If labour begins between 22 and 28 weeks of pregnancy this is known as very premature labour. This is not nearly as common as less than one in 100 babies arrives this early.
Most cases of premature labour begin with the start of regular contractions, waters breaking or a ‘show’. However, in some cases babies are deliberately delivered early because there are concerns about the health of the mother and/or the baby. When this happens, labour is induced or the baby is born by Caesarean section.
Often the cause of premature labour remains unknown. However, there are some factors that are thought to increase the risk. These include:
You will need to contact your doctor or hospital straight away so that labour can be confirmed and your baby can be checked. The start of labour is usually diagnosed by a vaginal examination to see if the cervix is changing.
If labour is suspected, you will be advised to stay in hospital where you could be offered:
If your waters haven’t broken and there are no concerns about you or your baby you may be offered medication to try and delay labour. This can suppress your contractions long enough for you to complete the course of steroids or to be transferred to a hospital that offers specialist care.
Babies that are born early have an increased risk of health problems, especially with breathing, feeding and infection. The earlier your baby is born the more likely they are to have these problems. This means that your baby may need to be transferred to a specialist neonatal unit as soon as they are born.
Most premature babies survive and only a few have long-term health problems.
However, very premature babies, born before 24 weeks, have less chance of survival, and those that do survive often have serious health problems.
If your baby needs to go into a neonatal unit you will be encouraged to spend as much time as you can with them. Breast milk is very important for premature babies and you should ask for help and support that you need to produce enough milk for your baby’s needs.