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How preterm labour is diagnosed

When you arrive at the maternity unit, your midwife and obstetrician may examine you and do some tests. This is to check whether you're in labour and also to check the health of you and your baby.

These examinations and tests may include:

  • checking your temperature, blood pressure and pulse
  • examining your tummy to check your baby’s position, any tenderness in your tummy and if it's possible to feel contractions
  • a check of the baby's heartbeat - measurements of the baby's heartbeat may be taken, this is known as a CTG (cardiotocograph)
  • your urine may be tested to check for infection and to check for protein, which could be a sign of pre-eclampsia
  • your vagina might be checked if your cervix is dilating - this is when the neck of your womb has started to open
  • having a small device called a speculum inserted into your vagina to hold it open so your midwife or obstetrician can see if your waters have broken
  • testing to see if any fluid coming from your vagina is amniotic fluid (the water that surrounds your baby in the womb)
    a swab from your vagina to test for infection
  • an ultrasound scan to check your baby’s position in the womb, their size and other health indicators

The tests performed on you will depend on your particular circumstances and symptoms.

Prelabour preterm rupture of the membrane (P-PROM)

A gush of fluid from your vagina could be a sign of your waters breaking or your membranes rupturing. If your waters break before 37 weeks, this is called preterm prelabour rupture of the membranes (P-PROM). It's not always obvious whether this has happened.

Your midwife or obstetrician may need to examine your vagina to check if your waters have broken. Usually, this will involve having a small device called a speculum inserted into your vagina to hold it open so it's easier to see inside.

Fluid that has leaked from your vagina may be tested.

If your waters break before labour starts, there may be a risk of infection to you and to your baby. You may be offered treatment with antibiotics to reduce this risk. Sometimes you may need to stay in hospital for this.

You might be offered a steroid injection into your muscle. The steroid in the injection helps the baby's lungs and reduces the risk of your baby having breathing difficulties if they're born too early.

Page last reviewed: 18/09/2018
Next review due: 18/09/2021