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Preterm birth

When a baby is born before 37 weeks, it is called preterm birth. Late preterm babies who are born between 35 and 37 weeks gestation may not look premature. They may not be admitted to an intensive care unit, but they are still at risk for more problems than full-term babies.

Faced with the threat of a preterm birth, delaying the birth – even if only for 48 hours- is beneficial provided that corticoids are administered to help the baby’s lungs mature before birth.

The prognosis of a premature baby depends on the age, size and weight of the baby at the moment of birth. The probability of survival depends on these factors plus the baby’s ability to breathe and other factors present at the time of delivery.


Pregnant mothers may feel certain symptoms that advise of a preterm birth:

  • Spotting and/or cramps in your abdomen
  • Contractions with lower back pain or pressure in your groin or thighs
  • Fluid that leaks from your vagina in a trickle or a gush
  • Bright red bleeding from your vagina
  • A thick, mucous-filled discharge from your vagina with blood in it
  • Your water breaks (ruptured membranes)
  • More than 5 contractions per hour, or contractions that are regular and painful
  • Contractions that get longer, stronger, and closer together


There are certain conditions during pregnancy that can increase the risk of preterm labor, including:

  • Being pregnant with twins
  • Infection in the mother or in the membranes around the baby
  • Certain birth defects in the baby
  • High blood pressure in the mother
  • The bag of water breaks early
  • Too much amniotic fluid
  • First trimester bleeding
  • A previous preterm delivery

The mother’s health problems or lifestyle choices that can lead to preterm labor include:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Illegal drug use, often cocaine and amphetamines
  • Physical or severe psychological stress
  • Poor weight gain during pregnancy
  • Obesity

Problems with the placenta, uterus, or cervix that can lead to preterm labor include:

  • When the cervix does not stay closed on its own (cervical incompetence)
  • When the shape of the uterus is not normal
  • Poor function of the placenta, placental abruption, and placenta previa


By modifying a lifestyle that may be harmful, the risks of a preterm birth may be reduced or prevented:

  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Do not smoke
  • Do not use alcohol and drugs
  • Keep your teeth and gums clean before and during pregnancy
  • Make sure to get prenatal care, and keep up with recommended visits and tests
  • Reduce stress during your pregnancy


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