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Pre-term birth is defined as a live birth that takes place before 37 weeks of pregnancy. There are three types of pre-term birth, depending on the number of weeks of pregnancy that have been reached when it occurs:


Moderately pre-term

(32–37 weeks)

Very pre-term

(28–32 weeks)

Extremely pre-term

(less than 28 weeks)

What are the risk factors?

Pre-term birth can occur for a variety of reasons. 

Although the cause isn’t always known, sometimes it can occur due to medical reasons, such as infections or problems with the womb. Risk factors include:


  • Previous surgery
  • Domestic violence
  • Infections
  • Problems with the womb
  • Smoking
  • Being under 18 years of age

Talking to your healthcare professional about pre-term birth

If you experience any of the following symptoms before reaching 37 weeks of pregnancy, it’s important to get in touch with your healthcare team as soon as possible because they could be a sign that you are going into early labour:


  • Change in vaginal discharge or more than usual
  • Pressure in your pelvis or lower belly, like your baby is pushing dow
  • A constant low, dull backache
  • Belly cramps, with or without diarrhoea
  • Regular or frequent contractions (painful or not)
  • Your waters breaking