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If you go into labour before 37 weeks, you'll be considered to be in premature labour. Around 10% of pregnancies in the UK fall into this category.
There are certain risk factors to be aware of - but sometimes there's simply no explanation for why labour begins prematurely.
You're more at risk of premature birth if you:
Are pregnant with more than one baby
Are under 17 or over 35
Had less than nine months between giving birth and getting pregnant again
Have already had a baby who was premature
Have an unusually shaped cervix or womb
These medical factors can also mean a higher risk of a premature birth
An infection, such as a bladder, urinary tract or kidney infection
Sexually transmitted infection
Previous cone biopsy of cervix
Late miscarriage during previous pregnancies
Severely underweight at start of pregnancy
Waters breaking early
Placenta partially or completely separating from womb (placental abruption)
Your baby has a medical condition that means it's safer for them to be born early
Warning signs to look out for:
Watery fluid from vagina
Vaginal discharge that is different or more than usual
Stomach cramps, with or without diarrhoea
Pressure in your pelvis
If you're not sure whether or not you're in labour, then call your doctor or midwife. It could be a false alarm, it could be premature labour - either way, you and your baby need to be checked.
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If your baby is born early, they may need to stay in hospital, for anything from days to months. The length of stay will depend on how premature they are and any health problems they may have.
Special hospital care provides babies with the essential things they need to survive and thrive: warmth, fluids, nutrients and monitoring.
Medical staff will be concentrating on helping your baby to breathe, as his or her lungs aren't yet fully developed.
It can be worrying time, as in addition to the usual hormonal upheaval and tiredness most women experience after giving birth, you're plunged into intense anxieties about your baby's health and future. Try to remember that it's not for ever and that lots of other families have gone through the same thing and come out the other side with babies who are fine.
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