5 Signs of Preterm Labor

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Many moms, especially first-time mothers, but even those of us who have more than one baby, wonder if they will know when “it's time.”

Labor can feel so different for everyone, and it can be easy to miss the signs of early labor, especially if you aren't sure what to expect. And while many women may be quick to write off some warning signs as not “real” labor, the truth is, premature labor does happen, and it's a very serious condition.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, preterm labor is any labor that occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy, so here are a few signs and symptoms that you should be aware of if you're currently expecting.

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Image via Chaunie Brusie

#1: Contractions

Contractions are an obvious sign of preterm labor, but they can be confusing because Braxton-Hicks contractions are a normal and non-worrisome part of pregnancy as well. To distinguish the difference, ask yourself the following questions:

1) Are my contractions regular and occurring up to every 10 minutes?

2) Did I drink enough water today?

3) Do my contractions appear to increase or get more intense when I walk around?

If you answered “yes” to any of those, your contractions are more likely to be premature labor. But in any circumstance, when you are having contractions before your due date, you should speak with your care provider just to be safe. The ACOG also notes that in preterm labor, the contractions are often painless.

{ MORE: Serena Williams Almost Died After Having Her Baby, and Her Story Is a Wake up Call }

Image via Chaunie Brusie

#2: Backaches

Contractions don't always feel like the tightening of your belly when it's preterm labor. Before your due date, premature labor could feel like a backache that comes and goes or is a constant, dull ache.

Image via Chaunie Brusie

#3: Fluid or bleeding

While your vaginal discharge may increase near the last months of pregnancy, it's important to note if you notice any fluid or bleeding, or any discharge that appears in a significantly increased amount (like your mucus plug getting dislodged.) Fluid could indicate that your water has broken, even if it's something as small as a little leak, and bleeding often occurs when your cervix dilates.

Image via Chaunie Brusie

#4: Cramps

If you're just feeling crampy, or even having diarrhea, it could be a sign of preterm labor. Dehydration or infection can lead to preterm labor, so cramps with or without diarrhea are a worrisome sign.

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Image via Chaunie Brusie

#5: Feeling “off”

While not super scientific, after working in OB for years, I always say that when a mother says she's feeling “off,” I listen to her. A mother's body knows when something is wrong, and for some women, premature labor can be preceded by just feeling “weird” or “off” for a few days before contractions start. Sometimes, preterm labor can manifest as something as simple as pelvic pressure.

There may be something going on physically, like an infection or an underlying problem with a placenta that causes the labor, or it may just be a mother's intuition, but don't hesitate to call up your care provider to be seen if you have any signs of premature labor, because it is a serious condition that you shouldn't feel silly for worrying about.

{ MORE: Stand Your Ground: 5 Things You Don’t Have to Do During Labor }

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5 Signs of Preterm Labor

Chaunie Brusie is a coffee mug addict, a labor and delivery nurse turned freelance writer, and a young(ish) mom of four. She is the author of "Tiny Blue Lines: Preparing For Your Baby, Moving Forward In Faith, & Reclaiming Your Life In An Unplanned Pregnancy" and "The Moments That Made You A Mother". She also runs Passion Meets Practicality, a community of tips + inspiration for work-at-home mothers. ... More

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  1. Profile photo of holyscrap holyscrap says:

    I felt weird with my 2nd pregnancy, and asked my midwife to check me. I was 4 cm and 50% effaced at 34 weeks. Thankfully I didn’t go into labor, just had slow dilation happening. I had to slow way down – modified bed rest. My daughter came 2 weeks early at a healthy 8 lbs. I’m glad I listened to my intuition and took it easy that last month to give her more time.


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