Premature (preterm) labour

If you go into labour before you’re 37 weeks pregnant it’s called preterm or premature labour.

Signs that labour's started early

If your labour starts early:

  • your waters may break
  • you may start to feel contractions or pressure

You should call the hospital straight away if you think you may be going into premature labour or you’re bleeding

Early labour can feel very different from labour at full term, so if you have any worries you should be seen by your midwife or obstetrician.

More about the first stages of labour

Slowing or stopping labour

Occasionally labour can be slowed down or even stopped.

This can give you more time to be moved to a different hospital:

  • for a higher level of intensive or specialist neonatal care if this might be needed
  • to have other therapies that'll help your baby

Inducing labour

If you develop a condition such as pre-eclampsia or the health of your baby's at risk before they’re born, your doctors may:

  • start your labour early by inducing it
  • deliver your baby by caesarean section

Sometimes a baby has a better chance of survival outside the womb. Your doctor will discuss this with you.

More about inducing labour


If your baby's going to be born early, you may be given medicines known as steroids. These:

  • help your baby’s lungs develop more quickly
  • reduce the chance of complications

More about corticosteroids

Premature babies

If your baby's born before 37 weeks they’re said to be premature.

The effects of being born early can last just a few days until your baby reaches their due date or can carry on affecting their development throughout childhood. Every baby's different.

More about premature babies

Translations and alternative formats of this information are available from Public Health Scotland.

Last updated:
12 August 2021