Premature labour and birth

Signs of premature labour

About one baby in every 13 will be born prematurely – in other words, before the 37th week of pregnancy.  In most cases labour starts by itself, and the signs will usually be the same as labour that starts at full term.  These signs could be:

  • contractions
  • sudden breaking of the waters
  • a 'show' (when the plug of mucus that has sealed the cervix during pregnancy comes away and out of the vagina)
  • Find out more about the signs of labour and what happens

Having your baby early

If your baby is likely to be delivered early, you will be admitted to a hospital with specialist facilities for premature babies.  This is known as a neonatal unit. Find out more about babies who need special intensive care.
Not all hospitals have facilities for the care of very premature babies, so it may be necessary to transfer you and your baby to another unit, ideally before delivery (if time permits) or immediately afterwards.
If contractions start prematurely, the doctors may be able to use drugs (tocolytics) to stop your contractions temporarily.  This hopefully allows time for steroid injections to be given.  Steroids will reduce the risk of the baby suffering from the complications of being born very early (particularly breathing difficulties and bleeding).  They can take about 24 hours to work.
Many twins and triplets are born prematurely.  The average delivery date for twins is 37 weeks and 33 weeks for triplet.