If labor occurs before a pregnancy reaches its 37th completed week (full term is normally 40 weeks), it's called premature labor, or preterm labor.
The World Health Organization defines preterm labor as the onset of contractions of the uterus before the 37th completed week of pregnancy that are:
- Palpable (that can be felt by a health professional)
If there is also progressive effacement (shortening) and dilation (opening) of the
Just as normal labor differs in intensity from one woman to another, so do the contractions of premature labor. Some women do not have painful contractions, but describe being "uncomfortable" or merely feeling "as if something isn't right." If you think you might be in preterm labor, trust your instincts and contact your health care provider for a complete exam.
The uterus is a muscle. During labor, it contracts, causing the cervix to shorten and open so that the baby can be born.
- As labor progresses, the contractions become more frequent, stronger, and more regular.
- Eventually the cervix opens fully, allowing delivery to take place.
- When contractions cause the cervix to begin to open prior to the 37th week of pregnancy, this is premature labor.
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Facts About Premature Labor