Preterm Labor: What Dad Can Do

Preterm labor is labor that occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy. (Most pregnancies last 38-42 weeks; your partner's due date is 40 weeks after the first day of her last menstrual period.) Preterm labor can happen to any woman: In nearly half of all cases, we don't know why a woman delivers prematurely. About 12 percent of births (1 in 8) in the United States are preterm. Babies who are born preterm are at higher risk of needing hospitalization, dying, and having long-term health problems than babies born at the right time. Health problems include cerebral palsy, mental retardation, blindness and chronic lung problems.

Preterm labor may sometimes be slowed or stopped with a combination of medication and rest. More often, birth can be delayed just long enough to transport the woman to a hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). While the birth is being delayed, the woman receives antibiotics to prevent infection and steroids to help speed up her baby's lung development.

What Dad Can Do to Help

Learn the signs of preterm labor listed below, and encourage your partner to learn them, too.

Your partner should call her health care provider or go to the hospital right away if she thinks she is having preterm labor. The signs of preterm labor include:

  • Contractions (the abdomen tightens like a fist) every 10 minutes or more often
  • Change in vaginal discharge (leaking fluid or bleeding from the vagina)
  • Pelvic pressure—the feeling that the baby is pushing down
  • Low, dull backache Cramps that feel like a period
  • Abdominal cramps with or without diarrhea

The health care provider may tell your partner to:

  • Come into the office or go to the hospital
  • Stop what she's doing and rest on her left side for one hour
  • Drink 2-3 glasses of water or juice (not coffee or soda)

If the symptoms get worse or do not go away after one hour, your partner should call her health care provider again or go to the hospital. If the symptoms go away, she should relax for the rest of the day. If the symptoms stop but come back, she should call her health care provider again or go to the hospital.

A woman doesn't need to have all the symptoms to have preterm labor. You and your partner should take action even if she has only one. Help your partner take care of herself and your baby: Encourage her to get regular prenatal checkups. If she agrees, go with her to see her health care provider. Remind her to stay away from alcohol and cigarettes. Help her avoid stress (for instance, take care of the children or pitch in with  household chores). Keep her health care provider's phone number handy in case of emergency.

March of Dimes has even more helpful information about Your role as a dad!