Signs of premature labour

The following symptoms before 37 weeks of pregnancy could indicate premature labour.

What are the signs of premature labour?

The following symptoms before 37 weeks of pregnancy could indicate premature labour:

  • either a slow trickle or a gush of clear or pinkish fluid from the vagina or any increase in vaginal discharge
  • backache
  • cramps like strong period pains
  • a frequent need to urinate
  • a feeling of pressure in the pelvis
  • nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea.

If you have any of the following symptoms, phone the hospital or midwife straight away, as you could be in labour:

Don't delay if you have strong pain, a smelly discharge or bleeding from your vagina, or if you are feeling feverish, sick or have a temperature, call immediately as you may need urgent medical attention.

Read more about going into labour prematurely

If you have been told you are at risk of having a premature baby, or if you have already had a premature baby, you are likely to have lots of questions about preterm birth. 

Knowing the stages of growth and development after a preterm baby is born and how to care for your baby is essential to give the best chance of survival. 


  1. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Preterm birth and labour, guidance in development final scope, NICE, 2013. Also available at: (accessed 15 April 2014)
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Read more on the causes of premature birth

Read more about being at risk of premature birth

  • Premature baby in hospital

    Causes of premature birth

    It's not always possible to explain the causes of preterm birth and why it happens. There are risk factors for being born early, such as infection, placental problems or genetic problems, but in many cases the cause is unknown.

  • Premature baby in incubator.

    Gestational age and medical needs

    As soon as your premature baby is born, the healthcare team will decide what level of care they need.

  • Pregnant woman talking to midwife.

    Delaying a premature birth

    If it is established that you are in labour, the healthcare team will try to prevent the birth of your baby if possible and if it does not endanger the baby. This is so that they can do their best to prepare you and your baby for their premature birth.

  • Premature baby in incubator being touched by mother's hand.

    Giving birth to your premature baby

    Giving birth is one of the most life-changing experiences you'll ever have, but it doesn't always go as planned, especially when your baby is premature.

  • Healthy pregnant woman exercising.

    How you can reduce your risk of premature birth

    It's not easy for the healthcare team to discover why some babies are born prematurely, but there are steps that can be taken that can slightly reduce your risk of premature birth.

  • Pregnant woman talking to midwife.

    At risk of premature birth

    Being told you are at risk of premature birth can be shocking and distressing.

  • Pregnant woman being checked by doctor.

    Treatment for premature birth/cervical incompetence

    Most preterm babies arrive early without warning. However, some pregnancies are known to be at risk of ending in preterm birth.

  • Premature baby.

    Premature birth - information and support

    A 'premature' or 'preterm' baby is one that is born before 37 weeks. If your baby is born early - also called 'premature' or 'preterm' - they may need special care as they may not be fully developed.

Last reviewed on April 1st, 2014. Next review date April 1st, 2017.

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