Who Is At Risk for Preterm Labor?

Being aware of your risk for preterm labor can help you take a more active role in your pregnancy and your baby’s health. Together, you and your doctor, nurse, or nurse-midwife can use this knowledge to work out a plan.

Medical risks1

Certain medical conditions during pregnancy may increase the likelihood of going into preterm labor.

  • Previous preterm birth — women who’ve delivered a baby early (before 37 weeks) or experienced preterm labor symptoms in a previous pregnancy.
  • Twins or triplets — women who are pregnant with twins, triplets, or more are at increased risk because of the added weight and pressure.
  • Cervical abnormalities — whether the result of surgery or detected by a doctor, nurse, or nurse-midwife, cervical abnormalities can limit space for the baby to grow, interfere with blood supply, or weaken the cervix.
  • In vitro fertilization (IVF) — the same underlying health conditions that make IVF necessary may put women at increased risk for preterm labor. 

Other medical conditions that may increase the likelihood of preterm labor include:

  • Urinary tract infections, vaginal infections, sexually transmitted infections 
  • Diabetes 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Clotting disorders (thrombophilia) 
  • Certain birth defects in the baby 
  • Being underweight before pregnancy 
  • Obesity 
  • Short time period between pregnancies (less than 6-9 months between one birth and the beginning of the next pregnancy)

If you have any of these risk factors, it’s especially important for you to know the symptoms of preterm labor — and what to do if they occur.

Lifestyle and environmental risks1

Certain lifestyle factors may put you at greater risk for preterm labor:

  • Late or no prenatal care
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Using illegal drugs or abusing prescription drugs
  • Domestic violence, including physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
  • Lack of social support
  • Stress
  • Long working hours with long periods of standing
  • Exposure to certain environmental pollutants

Researchers have also identified other risk factors. African-American women, women younger than 17 or older than 35, and economically disadvantaged women are at greater risk than other women. Experts do not fully understand why and how these factors increase a woman’s risk for preterm labor.


  1. Preterm labor and premature birth. March of Dimes website. https://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/preterm-labor-and-premature-birth.... Accessed May 15, 2019.


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