Premature or preterm labor is when a fetus is delivered earlier than 37 weeks. While the exact cause is unclear, there are a number of risk factors that can contribute to preterm labor, including smoking and experiencing preterm labor in the past.

If you’re at risk of preterm labor, your doctor will monitor you more closely and recommend several treatment options to help reduce the risks.

Let’s take a look at what the risks are, how it’s diagnosed, and what you can do to ensure you and your baby are as healthy as possible.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of preterm labor may not be known, but there are several risk factors that can make preterm labor more likely. You may be at risk of premature labor if:

  • you have had multiple births
  • you have gone into preterm labor before
  • you’re pregnant with more than one baby
  • you’ve had more than one miscarriage
  • you are problems with your uterus, cervix, or placenta
  • you have an infection in the lower genital tract or amniotic fluid.

Smoking, being underweight or overweight, and being pregnant before 17 or after 35 can also put you at risk for preterm labor.

How is it Diagnosed?

The symptoms of preterm labor in a baby include a head that’s significantly larger than the body, features that are sharper due to lack of cells that store fat, fine hair across the whole body, low body temperature (after birth), trouble breathing, and feeding problems.

For the mother, preterm labor occurs when regular contractions begin in the opening of the cervix at 20-36 weeks into the pregnancy. You may also experience a dull ache in your lower back, abdominal cramping, vaginal spotting or bleeding, and the feeling of pressure in the lower abdomen.

There are also a number of exams and tests your OB/GYN will do to diagnose preterm labor. They will do a pelvic exam, perform an ultrasound, and order lab tests to check for infections or the presence of fetal fibronectin, which is usually present during labor.

When to Take Action?

Pregnant women with vaginal bleeding and/or irregular contractions need to contact their doctor immediately, even if they haven’t yet reached the point of labor. Lab tests will be done to rule out blood clots, sepsis, infections, and other serious concerns.

There are also medications, like tocolytics, your doctor might give you. Tocolytics can delay the birth for 48 hours and temporarily slow contractions. This is usually done so other medications, like corticosteroids, can have the maximum effect.

There are also surgical options that can be considered. Talking to your OB/GYN about your options is crucial.

Treatment and Management

Treatment is based on any issues found during the exams and tests. If your doctor suspects an infection, you will be given antibiotics. You may need to stay in a hospital for monitoring.

If bleeding occurs, your doctor may give you fluids through an IV line. In some cases, if the baby is mature enough, it can be delivered immediately. Ensure you visit your doctor regularly to discuss your treatment plan with them.

Schedule A Consultation Today

Preterm labor is a serious condition that should be treated promptly. To ensure you’re getting all the information you need and the best treatment possible, schedule a consultation with Dr. Alex Tepper today. He is a board-certified OB/GYN who will listen to your concerns and determine the right treatment for you and your baby.

To schedule a consultation today, call our New York, NY office at 212-828-0900 or use our online contact form.


Whether you are a new or returning patient, Dr. Tepper can assess your concerns and discuss your options to find the most comfortable and convenient care for you. To get started, call our office to set up an appointment.