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What is premature birth?

If you give birth before the 37th week of pregnancy, this is called premature birth or premature labour.

About eight out of 100 babies in the UK are born prematurely.

What are the symptoms?

  • regular contractions or tightening in your tummy
  • cramps like period pains
  • a blob of mucus from your vagina
  • a gush or trickle of liquid from your vagina
  • unusual backache.

When should I see a GP?

You should see your midwife or maternity unit as soon as you have any of the signs above.

Twins and triplets are often born prematurely, so if you’re expecting twins or triplets, contact your midwife as soon as you notice these signs.

What happens if I think I am giving birth prematurely?

The midwife or hospital will do some checks and tests to find out if:

  • your waters have broken
  • you're in labour
  • you have an infection.

You may have a vaginal examination. You might also need a blood test and urine test, and tests may be done to record your contractions and the baby's heart rate.

Your midwife will also be able to talk to you about options around your baby’s birth. They can also recommend support groups who can help you now and when you go home with your baby.

What are the risks of premature birth to my baby?

Babies born before 37 weeks are more likely to have some health issues.

You and your baby will need to spend time in a hospital with facilities that can provide the care your baby needs. This is called a neonatal unit.

Am I more likely to give birth prematurely?

Sometimes doctors will tell you that you are at risk of possible premature birth.

This could be because of your health, the condition of your body, or your baby. Your doctor will discuss this with you.

Find more advice and support:

Visit the NHS website

Our research on pregnancy and birth

As a women’s health charity, part of what we do is fund research to save and change the lives of women, girls and babies.