How to Prevent Preterm Labor & Birth

A full-term pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks, but some babies decide to come earlier. Preterm labor is when your body starts preparing for delivery before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Preterm birth is having a baby before 37 weeks. Many premature babies are at high risk for health and developmental problems, disability, and sometimes death.

The good news? While the healthiest option for your baby is to stay in the womb to full term, premature babies born after 32 weeks of pregnancy have high survival rates and often avoid complications. Healthcare providers also have access to treatments to help delay labor and speed up a baby’s development.

Whether or not you know of any risk factors, stay informed and prepared for a possible preterm birth. Learn more about common causes of preterm labor and prevention and what you should do if you start going into labor early.

What Causes It?

Researchers are unsure about all the causes for preterm labor and birth. However, you can have certain risk factors for preterm birth. These include:

  • Age (17 or younger, or 35 and older)
  • Carrying multiple babies
  • Infection
  • Injury during previous birth
  • Low pre-pregnancy weight or having dietary deficiencies
  • Previous preterm birth
  • Short cervix
  • Smoking while pregnant
  • Uterine abnormalities
  • Vaginal bleeding while pregnant

How to Prevent Preterm Labor

Preterm birth isn’t always escapable. Some women may go into labor early without having any known risk factors. While you may not be able to completely prevent preterm labor, there are certain ways to reduce the risk.

  • Avoid smoking, drinking or using illicit drugs.
  • Keep all your prenatal care appointments, which helps your physician detect any concerns early.
  • Protect yourself from infection by washing your hands, avoiding raw meat and using condoms during sex.
  • Reduce your stress and get plenty of rest.
  • Stay within a healthy weight range for pregnancy.

If you are likely to deliver early, your physician may prescribe progesterone shots. Progesterone shots can prevent early contractions and help you carry your baby to full term. Your doctor may also recommend cervical cerclage. During this procedure, a surgeon will place stitches to keep the cervix closed and baby inside the uterus. Your physician may recommend one of these options if you had a previous premature birth or have a short or weakened cervix. 

What to Do if You Go Into Preterm Labor

Call your physician right away if you begin labor early. If your water breaks or you experience any bleeding, you may need to go to the hospital for immediate care. A medical provider can recommend certain techniques or medical treatments to delay labor. Steroids may be used to help the baby develop and antibiotics may be used to reduce the risk for infection.