Recognizing Preterm Labor: How Will I Know?

Pregnancy Tips Week 40

You may or may not recognize uterine contractions. The menstrual-like cramps are actually uterine contractions. Some women do experience painful contractions; this makes it easier to realize what is happening. However, many do not have pain but feel a tightening.

If you feel regular contractions every ten minutes for an hour, and they don't stop, you should be evaluated immediately. 

If you have been in labor before, you may recognize contractions more easily. Some women have back labor, and if it is preterm, they will have a backache that is associated with a tight feeling across the abdomen.

You can ask your doctor or nurse to show you how to recognize uterine contractions by feeling your abdomen. Most women have some contractions as they near the end of their pregnancies. These are called Braxton-Hicks contractions and do not lead to labor. These are usually not painful and not regular. Even if they are painful and regular, they should go away within an hour or so with rest. Some doctors will have women at risk for a premature delivery wear a uterine monitor to check for contractions at home; this has not proven to help detect premature labor but in some cases may be helpful.

Most doctors will say that if you feel regular contractions every ten minutes for an hour, and they don't stop, you should be evaluated immediately. There are many tests a doctor can do to tell if you are in premature labor and to help decide what to do if you are.

What should make you the most suspicious is pain, contractions, pressure or other symptoms that do not go away but persist, becoming more regular or constant. If you are wondering if you are in preterm labor because you have any of these symptoms, the best choice is to go to the doctor. It is better to make the mistake of being checked and found to be fine, than to ignore warning signs and get to the doctor too late to attempt to stop preterm labor or prepare you and the baby. Do not be embarrassed to get yourself checked.

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Recognizing Preterm Labor: How Will I Know?

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47 comments

  1. Myniesh says:

    Hi, I’m 34+1 pregnant an for the past hr I’ve been experiencing my stomach tightening but no back pain. This is my third pregnancy. My first two was c-sections & my kids was born 2013,2014 & now 2015. I don’t want to go to the LD because every time I go the pain stops. I’m not sure what to do.

  2. Kimoras Mom says:

    Hello everyone! I just made 24 weeks yay! But been having some abdominal pains and lower back pains. They arent dull but kind of achy and sharp. Recently, had a chek-up and doc said eveything looked fine. Said the pains were due to my body adjusting to the baby and it’s growth, since this is my first pregnancy. But I’ve been worried because for the last two days I’ve been having pain in my lower back, on the sides of my belly and at the lower part of my stomach that were persistent for awhile. No changes in vaginal fluid, no spotting, or gushing fluids though. I’m starting to get worried. Shoudl I be?

  3. claire says:

    hi i’m 35+5 n having these pains in my back that move to my stomach area they’re regular like 10/20 mins apart ive had them 4 2 days now n they r gettin stronger. i think i had the show last week but my waters have’nt gone yet im thinkin slow labour but not sure please could any1 help. i’m scared n dont knw wot 2 do thank you

  4. Tiffany says:

    I’m 26 weeks now and feeling some strange pain and my back been hurting for hours this is my second baby and not sure if it’s preterm labor been 6 yrs since my first hope it’s not going to see the doctor in the morning

  5. Haley says:

    I’m 17, and having my first child. I haven’t been to my OB/GYN for 3 weeks due to moving arrangements and I’m scared shitless. Sorry for my language, but I’ve been having these symptoms for about 2 weeks now and My mother thinks I should stop worrying. Am I right, or wrong?

    • Megan Klay says:

      Hi Haley – We recommend you at least call your doctor and discuss your symptoms with them. They will know your medical history best and can let you know how to proceed. Best wishes!

  6. I have Preterm Labor symptoms. Talked to my Doctor about these weird feelings I was having, come to find out I started having contractions at 18 – 19 weeks. I am 20 weeks now and am going to be monitored more frequently then before. As of right now baby is okay, but might be early. Hopefully not TOO early. I find out more on Friday. Its not fun! Especially because this is my first pregnancy getting this far, I miscarried twins at less then 2 months in 2011.

  7. I keep getting a light cramping feeling in my lower abdomen and sometimes it drives me nuts but doctors say everything should be ok I have even gone to E.R and they wanted to do all kinds if test but I felt uncomfortable with it not being my OB. I really wish they could pin point this pain and I could just begin to enjoy this pregnancy and not worry about the fact of going into pre-term labor or not…

  8. Tristintran says:

    Check every sign and talk to doctor.

  9. sheenaholman says:

    I have a lot of these symptoms all the time Im only 24 weeks but I think that its normal for this pregnancy. I would hope to know the difference if it was preterm labor.

  10. victoria says:

    Preterm labor is a scary thought that I try to keep out of my mind but maybe it would be better to prepare in case it does happen. I may pack a bag now and start reading more heavily so I will feel ready no matter when the baby comes.

  11. Stacy says:

    I had contractions yesterday 20 min apart for 12 hrs but they didn’t get stronger. They started at 11:30 am and I saw Dr at 3 and she said I was only 1cm and to go home. Today my back hurts and I feel a lot of pressure in my pelvic area when I walk but only 4 or 5 random contractions today. My due date is November 11th. I live an hour away from the hospital and my husband works anywhere from 1-2 hrs away from home. I am worried if I do go into labor I’ll be stuck at home too long. This is my 3rd baby. My 1st labor was 20 hrs but 2nd was only 6hrs!!!

  12. Cynthia says:

    The Closer to The Due Date The More Scared I Am

  13. Dario says:

    So if she complains about these signs and symptoms I should rush her to the hospital?!

    • Victoria says:

      If they last for more than an hour yes. Try to keep a record of how long the pain last and how long in between this is something they will ask for as soon as you get tot hospital

  14. Phammom says:

    Good information.

  15. Tina says:

    I hope I won’t have to worry about this.

  16. Marilyn says:

    I hope I can avoid this.

  17. katherine says:

    I had preterm labor my baby boy was born at 31 weeks bc my water broke n it was getting hard for him to breath!

  18. Asia says:

    I was preterm labor two days ago

  19. Mama says:

    I was in preterm labor last week. Contractions every 2 min. By the time I got to the hospital. They did a test that is 98% accurate and tells wether u r in true labor or not. The test was negative but they must have thought it was wrong because they gave me meds to stop the contractions and steroids to boost the baby’s lungs. It’s been a week now and I’m on bed rest so I’m going crazy with boardom. I am now officially 35 weeks and the dr. Says the baby will be ok if she is born now. I think it’s still a little scary my last daughter was born at 35 weeks Nd was in the hospital for a few weeks with feeding and breathing problems. I don’t want to do that again. She is almost 2 now and very health but I’m pretty nervous. That’s not to say I’m super excited to meet our 3rd little girl sometime soon. I just hope I don’t go passed my due date. Lol

  20. I’m so afraid of this!

  21. Stephanie says:

    I’ve had a few before 37weeks and now after 37 weeks the thing is that for my daughter 9yrs ago I didn’t know I was contracting so I’m afraid that for my son I won’t feel them either

  22. Staci says:

    I’ve been having a few contractions here and there starting at 30 weeks. I’m 34 weeks now, and my doctors have been telling me to just take it easy. It’s a very scary thing to happen this early!

  23. Janice says:

    I did not have a preterm labor, I just had one, and I was not guessing.

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