Threat of Premature Labor: What You Should Know

Threat of Premature Labor: What You Should Know

Last update: 24 June, 2018

A premature labor is one that occurs before the 37th week of gestation. According to statistics, it can happen to a considerable percentage of pregnant women: between 10 and 15%.

Because a premature birth can cause certain complications, we’ll show you how to detect the threat of premature labor and what you can do to prevent it.

Depending on the week in which premature labor occurs, this may be:

  • Before week 28: extreme prematurity
  • Between weeks 28 and 31: severe premature labor
  • In weeks 32 and 33: moderate prematurity
  • Between weeks 34 and 36: mild preterm delivery

Causes of the threat of premature labor

A preterm birth originates because of a complex combination of both genetic and environmental factors. However, in most cases you cannot determine exactly what generates it.

Although the causes haven’t been determined definitively, it’s suspected that some don’t depend on the mother‘s habits or on care received during pregnancy. These include loss of muscle tone in the uterus, uterine infections or hemorrhages.

Risk of premature birth

Risk factors refer to the woman’s condition. Some of them are unavoidable and others are derived from her lifestyle and therefore controllable.

Risk factors of the mother:

  • Infections
  • Hypertension
  • One or several previous preterm births
  • Previous cervical surgeries
  • Excessive stress
  • Obesity
  • Smoking cigarettes or consuming illicit drugs
Threat of Premature Labor: What You Should Know

Risk factors associated with the pregnancy:

  • Existence of several fetuses at once (multiple pregnancy)
  • Excess amniotic fluid
  • Rupture of the amniotic fluid bag
  • Congenital defects in the baby
  • Cervico-uterine insufficiency (the cervix does not close)
  • Previous placenta
  • Placental detachment


It’s important that the woman recognizes the threat of premature labor as quickly as possible. This way, complications can be reduced. In case of any of these symptoms, you should immediately go to your specialist:

  • Pain in the pelvic or abdominal area
  • Intense back pain
  • Pressure in the pelvic area
  • Colic
  • Regular contractions
  • Hemorrhage
  • Vaginal flow of any type

How to know if the threat of premature labor is real

In the presence of any of the symptoms mentioned, the mother should call her obstetrician or go to the nearest health center. There, they will carry out the necessary tests:

  • Dilation of the cervix. If the cervix is open, the mother may be in the process of a premature delivery. The length of the uterine canal can be measured by ultrasound.
  • Fibronectin test. Fetal fibronectin is a protein whose elevated levels may indicate the threat of premature labor. Its function is to keep the fetal membranes attached to the walls of the uterus.


Some medical treatments can prevent premature delivery:

  • Progesterone administration. The doctor must determine if the mother needs this hormone.
  • Bed rest. It is necessary to reduce the pressure on the uterus, so the mother must remain lying down.
  • Hydration. In mild cases, hydration to maintain the concentration of the blood in the body can be done orally at home. In more extreme cases, it may be necessary to go to a health center to receive intravenous fluids.
Threat of Premature Labor: What You Should Know
  • Maturation of the baby’s lungs. The most common and also most severe complication for a premature baby is associated with the lack of maturation of the lungs. This would prevent him from performing respiratory functions. To avoid this, corticosteroids are administered to the mother.

Many of the treatments administered to mothers are meant to lengthen the time of pregnancy until the baby is ready to be born. However, in some cases it is inevitable, and premature delivery is the only option for the baby to survive.

Can the threat of premature labor be prevented?

Some premature births are inevitable, regardless of the care received by the mother. But there are measures that can reduce the percentage of risk and help the pregnancy reach full term.

  • Prenatal care. When the mother finds out that she is pregnant, she should see a professional and follow their instructions. She should take the indicated vitamins, follow the vaccination schedules and go to periodic check-ups.
  • Caring for her own health. It is essential for the mother to follow a certain diet and abstain from certain habits and substances that are harmful to her own health and her baby’s health.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Castaigne, V., Picone, O., & Frydman, R. (2012). Parto prematuro. EMC – Ginecología-Obstetricia.
  • Faneite, P., Gómez, R., Marisela, G., Faneite, J., Manzano, M., Marti, A., & Urdaneta, E. (2006). Amenaza de parto prematuro e infección urinaria. Revista de obstetricia y ginecología de Venezuela, 66(1), 1-6.
  • Ochoa, A., & Pérez Dettoma, J. (2009). Amenaza de parto prematuro: Rotura prematura de membranas. Corioamnionitis. In Anales del sistema sanitario de Navarra (Vol. 32, pp. 105-119). Gobierno de Navarra. Departamento de Salud.
  • Palencia, A. (2009). Parto prematuro. Sociedad colombiana de pediatría, 9(4), 10-9.
  • Protocolos SEGO. (2004). Amenaza de parto prematuro.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.