Premature labour is labour that happens before the 37th week of pregnancy. About 8 out of 100 babies will be born prematurely.
If you think your labour might be starting and you're less than 37 weeks pregnant, call your midwife or hospital straight away. They'll need to check you and your baby to find out whether you're in labour, and discuss your care choices with you.
They'll offer checks, tests and monitoring to find out whether:
These may include a vaginal examination, blood test, urine test and cardiotocography to record contractions and the baby's heartbeat.
In some cases, pre-term labour is planned and induced because it's safer for the baby to be born sooner rather than later.
This could be because of a health condition in the mother, such as pre-eclampsia, or in the baby. Your midwife and doctor will discuss with you the benefits and risks of continuing with the pregnancy versus your baby being born premature.
You can still make a birth plan, and discuss your wishes with your birth partner, midwife and doctor.
The signs of premature labour can be similar to the signs of labour that starts at full term, and may include: contractions, period-type pains, breaking of the waters, etc.
Your midwife or doctor should discuss with you the symptoms of pre-term labour, and offer checks to see if you're in labour.
Babies born before full term (before 37 weeks) are vulnerable to problems associated with being born premature. The earlier in the pregnancy a baby is born, the more vulnerable they are.