Preterm birth affects approximately 12% of pregnancies in the United States, and 80% of these are due to preterm labor or preterm premature rupture of membranes (breaking your water early). Although preterm birth (delivery before week 37) can't always be prevented, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk.
First, get to know the symptoms — if you catch them early and get to the doctor, actual delivery might be avoided. Look for contractions occurring at least four times in an hour, lower back pain, pelvic pressure, blood-tinged vaginal discharge, menstrual-like cramping or diarrhea. Pay special attention if you have an incompetent cervix, experienced vaginal bleeding in the second or third trimester, or are carrying multiples, underweight, a smoker or under age 20 or over 35. (All these factors increase your risk.)
To guard against preterm labor, begin prenatal care early, be consistent with doctor appointments throughout your pregnancy, maintain a healthy pregnancy weight, stay hydrated, avoid smoking or substance use, contact your doctor at the start of any illness or infection and manage your stress levels.
During pregnancy, your number one priority is taking extremely good care of yourself — treat it like a job. And, don’t ever feel embarrassed about calling your doctor if you think you're going into labor early — a false alarm is still cause for action.