Early Labor

Find your care

If you are a new patient seeking prenatal care, please call 310-794-7274. If you are an established patient and need to reach labor and delivery, call 310-825-9111 for Westwood or 424-259-9250 for Santa Monica.

Understanding Early Labor

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, a full-term pregnancy is 39 weeks to 40 weeks and 6 days.

Preterm labor, or premature labor, means you go into labor before 37 weeks. If you are in preterm labor, it means one or more of the following:

  • You are having uterine contractions and your cervix is beginning to change. Cervical changes include thinning of the cervix or dilation (opening of the cervix).
  • Your water (the amniotic sac) has broken.


You may be in preterm labor if you:

  • Feel your water break, which may come as an uncontrollable gush or as a steady trickle.
  • Have pressure in your pelvis or lower abdomen. This can be normal if it’s not your first pregnancy.
  • Experience dull, lower back pain that is nearly constant.
  • Feel cramping in your abdomen (and may have diarrhea).
  • Notice a change in vaginal discharge — becoming bloody, watery or mucus-filled — or the amount increases.
  • Feel your uterus tightening more than six times per hour (which may or may not be painful).

The symptoms of preterm labor may resemble other medical conditions. If you feel as if you may be going into early labor, call your obstetric doctor or nurse midwife right away.

Early labor and birth

Premature babies — babies born before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy — often have a low birth weight (less than 5.5 pounds) and are small. Because their organs are not fully mature, they have a higher risk of complications. It is harder for them to stay warm and fight off infections. They may also have trouble breathing, eating and digesting food. Babies who are born before 28 weeks are even more vulnerable because their bodies are not ready for life outside the womb.


If your care team suspects you are in early labor, they may send you to our labor and delivery unit for evaluation. Your team will likely place a monitor over your abdomen to check your baby’s heartbeat and how often you are having contractions. We may also do a pelvic exam to see if your cervix has started to change. We may examine you several times over a period of a few hours. We may do an ultrasound, either over the abdomen or vaginally, and other tests.

We might also give you medications to temporarily delay delivery, prevent infection and help protect your baby’s lungs and brain.