Signs To Look For

Preterm labor can be a little scary. Obstetrician/Gynecologist David Barrere helps us to better understand it and what signs to look for.
David Barrere, MD

Your question
How will I know if I am experiencing premature labor?

The expert answers
Preterm labor (PTL) is defined as contractions that result in cervical dilation and/or effacement (thinning) prior to 37 completed weeks of pregnancy (259 days from the 1st day of the last menstrual period). Occasional, irregularly timed contractions, called Braxton-Hicks contractions, are very common, starting during the second trimester. The uterus is composed of muscle (smooth muscle), and when stretched, like any muscle, the reaction is to contract. These are essentially "warm-up" contractions and do not result in cervical change. Braxton-Hicks contractions tend to be very sporadic and unpredictable, as compared to contractions of labor.

Your physician should be notified if any of the following symptoms develop so that an evaluation for PTL can be performed:

  • Persistent, or predictable contractions
  • Intermittent abdominal cramps associated with pelvic pressure or backache
  • Increased or change in vaginal discharge
  • Vaginal spotting or


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