For some women, the signs and symptoms of preterm labor are unmistakable. For others, they're more subtle. During pregnancy, be on the lookout for:

  • Regular or frequent contractions — a tightening sensation in the abdomen
  • Constant low, dull backache
  • A sensation of pelvic or lower abdominal pressure
  • Mild abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Vaginal spotting or bleeding
  • Watery vaginal discharge (water breaking) — in a gush or a trickle
  • A change in vaginal discharge

If you're concerned about what you're feeling — especially if you have vaginal bleeding accompanied by abdominal cramps or pain — contact your health care provider right away. Don't worry about mistaking false labor for the real thing. Everyone will be pleased if it's a false alarm.

Research doesn't support the benefits of home uterine monitoring as a routine practice, but it's sometimes recommended as a precaution. If your health care provider asks you to monitor yourself for contractions, lie on your side and place your fingertips on your lower abdomen. If you feel a firm tightening over the surface of your uterus, you might be having contractions. If you feel contractions, monitor yourself for an hour. Record when each contraction starts, how long it lasts and how many you have in an hour. While some uterine activity before 37 weeks of pregnancy is normal, contact your health care provider if you have four contractions every 20 minutes or eight contractions in an hour.

Feb. 24, 2012

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