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Pregnancy normally lasts 40 weeks, and full term is considered to be anywhere between 38 and 42 weeks. What is your chance of going into labor too early, how do you recognize premature labor, and how many moms deliver early statistically speaking?

Premature labor risk factors The reasons a woman will go into labor prematurely are not fully understood, and often occurs with no prior warning signs. While there is rarely a way to prevent preterm labor from happening, there are a few risk factors that you may want to be aware of. Of course, having a risk factor or even several doesn't necessarily mean you are condemned to delivering early and having a preemie with lots of medical problems. These risks factors are, however, something to keep in mind and to discuss with your doctor.

Here's a list:

You are carrying twins or higher order multiples. You have already given birth to a preemie before. You have an incompetent cervix, or other cervical or uterine abnormalities. You have an infection of some description (not necessarily in your uterus). You are pregnant after IVF. You have high blood pressure. You have been experiencing vaginal bleeding, the cause of which is unknown.

How do you recognize premature labor? Many moms who are worried about premature labor ask how they can recognize the warning signs. Preterm labor is, really, no different than going into labor at term. Obvious contractions that come in a patterned fashion are one sign of premature labor. The rupture of membranes (when your waters break) is another one, cramps and pain are bad news too, and a pushing feeling (like a baby is about to enter the birth canal) is another one. Go to the hospital and call your OBGYN or midwife when this happens. The earlier the stage of labor, the better the chance that doctors will be able to stop it, and give your baby the chance to mature in the womb at least a bit longer.

Premature labor statistics A baby is officially born prematurely when he or she arrives before 37 weeks of pregnancy. In the United States alone, over 500,000 babies are born prematurely every year making up a total of 12.5 percent of all births that happen in the US. The premature birth rate has been rising for decades. The majority of preemies are born between 34 weeks and 36 weeks, while only six percent of preemies are born before 28 weeks, when the danger of serious medical problems and death is highest.

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