FAQs About Premature Birth

Premature birth — before 37 weeks gestation — is currently on the rise in the United States.1 According to the March of Dimes, 1 out of every 10 births in this country is preterm, which is one of the highest rates in the world.1 Several factors may make you more likely to give birth preterm, but half of all preterm births occur in women with no known risks.2

How early is too early?

A full term pregnancy lasts 38 to 42 weeks. Many women will deliver a few days before their due date, which generally has no negative effect on the baby. However, the earlier your baby is born, the greater the chance that he or she will suffer serious and long-term health problems.3

What are the issues of preterm birth?3

Your baby’s organs finish their development near the end of pregnancy. If she or he is born early, those organs may not be fully ready to do their job outside of the support and protection of your womb. Many of the problems caused by preterm birth can be treated. But some children who are born prematurely may face lifelong health challenges.

How do I know if I’m at risk for a preterm delivery?

Several factors may make you more likely to give birth preterm, but half of all preterm births occur in women with no known risks.2 Therefore, it is best to talk with your doctor about whether your health history or any current health issues may put you at risk for giving birth early.

Even if I’m not at risk, are there symptoms I should look for?

It is best to talk with your doctor about whether your health history or any current health issues put you at risk for premature delivery. But you should also talk with your doctor, nurse, or nurse-midwife immediately if you experience any of the common symptoms of preterm labor, such as contractions, cramps, bleeding, vaginal discharge, back pain, or pelvic pressure (which feels like the baby is pushing downward), or if you just don't feel quite right.4

Is there a test to determine risk?

Fetal fibronectin testing is a safe, reliable, non-invasive test (similar to a Pap test) that measures your level of fetal fibronectin. With this simple test, your doctor can tell if your body may be getting ready for labor, even before you feel any of the symptoms. Fetal fibronectin is the “glue” your body makes to hold your baby in the uterus. When your body is getting ready for you to give birth, this glue breaks down and leaks into the vagina.


  1. The impact of premature birth on society. March of Dimes website. http://www.marchofdimes.org/mission/the-economic-and-societal-costs.aspx. Accessed October 6, 2017.
  2. Iams JD, et al. The preterm prediction study: can low-risk women destined for spontaneous preterm birth be identified? Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2001;184(4):652-5. doi:10.1067/mob.2001.111248.
  3. Behrman RE, et al, eds. Preterm Birth: Causes, Consequences and Prevention. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Understanding Premature Birth and Assuring Healthy Outcomes. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2007.
  4. March of Dimes. Signs and symptoms of preterm labor. http://www.marchofdimes.org/complications/signs-and-symptoms-of-preterm-.... Reviewed May 2017. Accessed August 18, 2017.

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