How is preterm labor diagnosed?

Terrie Watkins
Midwifery Nursing

Labor is defined as uterine contractions resulting in cervical change. Preterm labor occurs before 38 weeks and if it proceeds to delivery, preterm birth can result in devastating lifelong consequences for the baby.

The problem with diagnosing preterm labor is many of the symptoms may be subtle. Since the woman is used to the discomforts of pregnancy, and is not expecting labor at this point, she may ignore the symptoms until labor is advanced. Any uterine "tightening" or contractions exceeding 6/hour, blood-tinged or mucous discharge, leaking fluid from the vagina, or constant or intermittent back pain needs to be reported to the healthcare provider.

If preterm labor is suspected, several tests may be performed. The baby will be monitored to see if contractions are present and frequent. A test called the Feto Fibrinectin, a swab from the vagina, can predict whether labor is imminent. A cervical exam to determine if the cervix is opening or shortening may be performed. The length of the cervix may be measured by an instrument (cervilenz) or by ultrasound. If preterm labor is diagnosed there are medications and treatments that may be initiated in an attempt to prolong the pregnancy as long as possible.

Continue Learning about Pregnancy Complications

Everything You Need to Know About This High-Risk Pregnancy Condition
Everything You Need to Know About This High-Risk Pregnancy Condition
Although it’s relatively uncommon, affecting just 3.4 percent of pregnancies in the US each year, preeclampsia is a complication that can have serious...
Read More
What are the risks of having a baby later in life?
Discovery HealthDiscovery Health
Learn some of the possible risks associated with having a baby later in life in this clip from Disco...
More Answers
What does failure to progress mean in a pregnancy?
Louise E. Sivak, MDLouise E. Sivak, MD
Failure to progress refers to specific stages of labor (NOT PREGNANCY) not progressing as typically,...
More Answers
Healthy Pregnancy Weight, Healthier Adult Children
Healthy Pregnancy Weight, Healthier Adult Children

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.