Go to the hospital right away if you are in preterm labour.


Pregnancy usually lasts between 37 to 42 weeks. Preterm labour starts before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy.
Preterm labour may lead to preterm birth.

Preterm Babies May:

  • Have trouble breathing, feeding, and keeping warm
  • Be more likely to get infections
  • Need special care and stay in hospital longer

Seek Medical Care If You Have These Symptoms

  • Fever, chills, dizziness, vomiting or a bad headache
  • Blurry vision or spots before your eyes
  • Sudden or severe swelling of your feet, hands or face
  • A significant change in your baby’s movement

In many cases, the exact cause of preterm labour is unknown. However, some factors can increase the risk of preterm labour, including:

  • previous preterm birth
  • previous miscarriages
  • are pregnant with more than one baby
  • being underweight, or not gaining enough weight during pregnancy
  • had a suture placed in cervix during pregnancy or were told they have a short cervix
  • under age 18 or over age 35
  • not eating enough healthy food
  • smoking
  • high stress
  • infections of the teeth, kidneys, bladder and vagina
  • heavy physical work
  • Shift work; stand for long periods at work or work in extreme temperatures
  • illicit drug use

If you have any questions or concerns about preterm labour, talk to your health care provider.

  • Bad cramps or stomach pains that don’t go away
  • Blood or fluid (trickle or gush) from the vagina
  • Lower back pain/pressure, or a change in lower backache
  • Feeling like the baby is pushing down
  • Contractions or changes in the strength or number of contractions
  • An increase in amount of vaginal discharge
  • A feeling that “something is not quite right”

Preterm labour contractions may:

  • Feel more regular
  • Not go away if you move around or lie down
  • Include other signs, such as fluid leaking from the vagina or pelvic pressure

A vaginal swab may also be done to help your doctor or midwife see if you are at risk of having your baby early.

Although it may not be possible to prevent all preterm births, the following actions may help:

  • Start prenatal care as early as possible and see your health care provider regularly
  • Take a prenatal class early in your pregnancy
  • Try to cut down or quit smoking
  • Take time to rest during the day
  • Eat a balanced and nutritious diet following Canada’s Food Guide
  • Listen to your body – notice when things feel ‘different’ and talk to your health care provider about it
  • Learn ways to cope with stress
  • Talk to someone if there are problems with smoking, drugs or violence (abuse)

Adapted with permission from: Preterm Labour – Signs and Symptoms. Best Start: Ontario’s Maternal, Newborn and Early Child Development.