Preterm labor occurs during pregnancy when the Reference uterus Opens New Window starts to contract before the 37th week of pregnancy, causing the Reference cervix Opens New Window to open (dilate) and thin (efface).
The length of a normal pregnancy is 37 to 42 weeks, measured from the date of the mother's last menstrual period.
Early symptoms of preterm labor often are hard to diagnose. The uterus normally begins to contract around the 20th week of pregnancy. These early contractions (Reference Braxton Hicks contractions Opens New Window) do not dilate or efface the cervix but help prepare the uterus and fetus for labor. These contractions can be mistaken for preterm labor.
Preterm labor is diagnosed in a woman who is 20 to 37 weeks pregnant and has regular uterine contractions. This means 4 or more in 20 minutes, or about 8 or more in 1 hour.
Before 20 weeks, preterm labor that leads to delivery is considered a Reference miscarriage Opens New Window (spontaneous abortion).
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: Reference March 20, 2012|
|Medical Review:||Reference William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Reference H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine