What happens when you're in premature labour

Premature labour can progress very rapidly, especially when your waters have broken.

Doctors and midwives would need to do very frequent internal examinations to tell if the cervix is dilating fast. They try to avoid internal examinations to avoid infection.

You might only have mild pains, or none at all, and then quite quickly be ready to deliver the baby. This might happen on the hospital ward.

You'll go to the labour ward to deliver if labour proceeds unexpectedly and rapidly. Sometimes this is done quite urgently and it can be a little frightening. Your doctors and midwives will try to reassure you and keep you informed about what is happening.

Options for premature labour

Your healthcare team will discuss your options. These options depend on your situation and might include:

  • letting labour continue naturally
  • speeding up the labour or the birth by giving you medications to induce the birth or by performing a caesarean section - his option
  • may be necessary if you or your baby is unwell
  • delaying the birth for another day or two.
  • delaying the birth for as long as possible.

Delaying the birth

If you're less than 34 weeks, you may be transferred to a maternity unit with special care facilities for premature babies. And depending on your situation you may be given medication known as ‘tocolytics’ to delay the birth.

Tocolytics may be given by a drip into your vein or by tablet - like any medication, they don't always work.

In addition to delaying the birth, tocolytics allow time for you to receive treatment while your baby is in the womb. This treatment often includes an injection of a steroid to help the baby's lungs and reduce the risk of your baby having breathing difficulties if they're born too early.

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