Having a planned premature birth

Sometimes, a premature birth is planned because it’s safer for the baby to be born sooner rather than later. You may be offered a induction or c-section.

Why would a premature birth be planned?

Sometimes, a premature birth is planned because it's safer for the mother or baby for the birth to be sooner rather than later. 

This could be because mum has a health condition (such as pre-eclampsia) or baby has a health condition (such as fetal growth restriction). Find out more about the causes of premature birth.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that all women carrying multiple babies should plan to give birth earlier than women carrying single babies. This means that even if you don’t go into spontaneous premature labour, you will be advised to give birth before your due date. Find out more about giving birth to multiple babies

Your midwife and doctor will talk to you about the benefits and risks of continuing with the pregnancy versus your baby being born prematurely. This will likely include a conversation about:

  • your baby’s chances of survival
  • what care your baby will need when they are born and where they will have this care
  • how your baby may grow and develop
  • what your wishes are about resuscitation (reviving your baby if they are not breathing when they are born), if this is needed.

You should also be given the opportunity to speak to a neonatologist (doctor who specialises in caring for newborn babies) or paediatrician (doctor specialising in children’s health). 

Your healthcare professional will talk to you about the symptoms of premature labour in case your labour starts before you are offered an induction or you have a caesarean section.

Where can I have a planned premature birth?

You’ll be advised to give birth at the hospital so you and your baby can get any specialist care you need. 

How will I have a planned premature birth?

If your healthcare team advise that you need to give birth early, you may be offered an induction or caesarean section. Your healthcare professional can give you advice about the safest way to deliver your baby.

Having an induction

Labour usually starts naturally on its own, but sometimes it needs to be started artificially. This is called induced labour. Being induced is fairly common. Every year, 1 in 5 labours are induced in the UK. 

You may be given drugs called prostaglandins, which act like the natural hormones that kickstart labour. Alternatively, a small balloon or rods could be placed inside the neck of the womb to stretch it.  Your midwife or doctor may also break your waters if they haven’t broken yet. This method of induction is called artificial rupture of the membranes (ARM) or amniotomy. This will feel a bit like an internal examination, and won’t hurt your baby. 

The induction process itself is not painful, but you might feel some slight discomfort. You may not be offered an induction if:

  • your baby is not head down (known as breech)
  • you are unwell (such as if you have severe pre-eclampsia)     
  • there are worries over your baby’s health
  • your baby has severe fetal growth restriction.  

Having a planned caesarean section

If you need a planned c-section, you will see a doctor who specialises in care during pregnancy, labour and after birth (an obstetrician).

Find out more about having a c-section.

Making a birth plan

If you are having a planned premature birth, you may have some time to prepare for your birth experience. You may want to think about things like:

Talk to your doctor or midwife if you have any more questions about having a planned premature birth.

Looking after your emotional health

Knowing that you have a higher risk of giving birth prematurely and going through the experience can be overwhelming. Every parent with a premature baby will face different challenges, depending on their circumstances. Remember that your healthcare team will be there to support you. 

You can also call talk to a Tommy’s midwife on our pregnancy line on 0800 014 7800 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm), or email us at [email protected].

Find out more about coping with the idea of a premature birth.

NICE (2019). Twin and triplet pregnancy. National Institute for health and care excellence https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng137

NHS Choices. Premature labour and birth. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/premature-early-labour/ (Page last updated 4 November 2019 Next review due: 4 November 2022)

NICE (2015). Preterm labour and birth: NICE clinical guideline 62. National Institute for health and care excellence https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng25

NHS. Inducing labour. https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/labour-and-birth/signs-of-labour/inducing-labour/ (Last review: 12 November 2020 Next review: 12 November 2020)

NICE (2008). Inducing labour. National Institute for health and care excellence. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg70

Review dates
Reviewed: 23 August 2021
Next review: 23 August 2024