Symptoms & Warning Signs   


The early warning signs of preterm labour may be subtle and may be hard to tell apart from normal symptoms of being pregnant. If at any time during your pregnancy you experience any of these symptoms or have a gut feeling that something isn’t right call your primary health care provider straight away or head to the hospital. 

Warning signs & symptoms of premature labour include: 


Contractions in preterm labour can be similar to those at full term. However, for many women they may be less painful and experienced as pain or ‘cramps’ in the sides or back. Preterm contractions are usually regular and consistent in length. They may happen every 5, 10, 15, 20 or 30 minutes, last 40 to 60 seconds, and continue over a period of time. Contractions for some women in preterm labour however have no regular pattern.  

Preterm labour contractions can be confused with Braxton Hicks contractions which have no regular pattern.  

Leakage of fluid from the vagina 

For some women there may be no contractions but the waters may break. This could be an unmistakable large gush of fluid, or a harder to identify ‘slow leak’ or ‘watery vaginal discharge’. Your underwear may be constantly wet. 

Period-like cramps 

You may have cramps that are either rhythmic or constant. You may feel an ache in your lower abdomen just above the pubic bone, or in your back. Intestinal cramps You may have cramps with or without diarrhoea. They may feel like ‘gas pains’. 

Increasing lower backache  

You may have lower backache, which may radiate to your sides or the front. It may be rhythmic or constant and may not be relieved by change of position.  

Pelvic pressure  

You may feel pressure or fullness in your pelvic area, back passage, or thighs. It may feel as though the baby is pushing down or is going to ‘fall out’.  

Increase or change in vaginal discharge  

You may have an increase in vaginal discharge, or the consistency may change to mucousy or watery. It may be tinged with pink or brown blood. 

Vaginal bleeding 

If you bleed during pregnancy, contact your doctor or midwife. Your antenatal care provider can give you advice about what to do next. 

It can be helpful to note down details about what you have been experiencing. This may include: 

  • the amount and colour of any discharge 
  • whether you have passed any clots 
  • whether you have had any abdominal pain

If you are having heavy bleeding, it’s a good idea to keep your pads or stained clothes to show your doctor or midwife. 

A decrease in baby’s movements 

If you notice your baby is moving less and less, or the movements are not as strong, contact your maternity healthcare professional without delay. It is important for your maternity healthcare professional to know if you are concerned about your baby’s movements. You are not wasting their time. Do not wait until the next day or your next appointment. 

It may be possible to prevent premature birth, though only your health care provider can tell for sure so pick up the phone and call straight away. Acting fast can make a difference. 

Confirmation Content

Disclaimer: This publication by Miracle Babies Foundation is intended solely for general education and assistance and it is it is not medical advice or a healthcare recommendation. It should not be used for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment for any individual condition. This publication has been developed by our Parent Advisory Team (all who are parents of premature and sick babies) and has been reviewed and approved by a Clinical Advisory Team. This publication is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Miracle Babies Foundation recommends that professional medical advice and services be sought out from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your personal circumstances.To the extent permitted by law, Miracle Babies Foundation excludes and disclaims any liability of any kind (directly or indirectly arising) to any reader of this publication who acts or does not act in reliance wholly or partly on the content of this general publication. If you would like to provide any feedback on the information please email [email protected].