About one baby in every 13 will be born before the 37th week of pregnancy. In most cases labour starts by itself, either with contractions, the sudden breaking of the waters, or a show (see Signs of labour).
About one early baby in six is induced, and about one early baby in five is delivered by caesarean section.
If your baby is likely to be delivered early, you will be admitted to a hospital with specialist facilities for premature babies. Find out more about babies who need special care. Not all hospitals have facilities for the care of very premature babies, so it may be necessary to transfer you and your baby to another unit, either before delivery or immediately afterwards.
If contractions start prematurely, the doctors may be able to use drugs to stop your contractions temporarily. You will probably be given injections of steroids that will help to mature your baby's lungs so that he or she is better able to breathe after the birth. This treatment takes about 24 hours to work.
Many multiple birth babies (twins, triplets or more) are born prematurely. The average delivery date for twins is 37 weeks, and for triplets around 33 weeks. Find out more about giving birth to twins.
If you have any reason to think that your labour may be starting early, contact your hospital or midwife straight away.