Premature labour

Premature labour is labour that starts before 37 weeks. It's also known as preterm labour.

In general, the more premature a baby is, the greater the chance they will have health problems.

There are treatments that can delay the birth, and treatments to reduce the risk of health problems for babies who are born preterm.

One in 16 women will have a preterm birth. Over 4,500 babies are born prematurely in Ireland every year.

Immediate action required: Go to your nearest maternity unit immediately if you have:

  • a gush of fluid from your vagina or water leaking from your vagina
  • a sudden increase in the amount of discharge from your vagina, or sudden change in the type of vaginal discharge
  • cramps that feel like period pain
  • backache - especially if it feels different to the usual backaches you've had during the pregnancy
  • contractions (a tightening of your womb that come often and don't go away) that get stronger and are becoming more frequent
  • a pain in your tummy
  • a sudden feeling of increased pressure in your pelvis or the feeling that your baby is pushing down
  • bleeding from your vagina
  • a 'show' - when the mucous plug at the cervix (neck of your womb) comes away - this usually looks like sticky, jelly-like pink mucus
  • a feeling that something 'is not right'

Read about contractions and other signs that labour has started

Read about warning signs during pregnancy

Go to the maternity unit

If you think you may be in premature labour, it's not suitable to give birth at home.

You must go to your nearest maternity unit or hospital even if you had been planning a home birth. The main reason is that your baby may need specialised treatment immediately.

Page last reviewed: 18 September 2018
Next review due: 18 September 2021