First, it is important to know that your “due date” should really be thought of as a “due month.”

Most midwives and obstetricians feel that, if good dates have been established, it is safe to give birth anytime between 37 weeks gestation (three weeks before your due date) and 42 weeks gestation (two weeks after your due date. Labors before or after this window of time tend to involve higher risks for the baby. Babies born too early or too late can be very sick. If you smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, or use other street drugs during pregnancy, if you are carrying twins (or more), if you have had premature babies before, if you are younger than 18 or older than 40, if you were thinner than average before becoming pregnant, or if you have certain vaginal infections, you may be at higher than usual risk for premature labor. However, most premature babies are born to women who have none of these risk factors, so every pregnant woman needs to think about the possibility of premature labor.

So, if it is more than 3 weeks until your due date, and you have more than 6 contractions in an hour, you should drink 2 glasses of something (water, milk, and juice are good choices), eat if you haven’t eaten in 2 hours, and rest on your left side. If you are still having contractions after doing this, call your midwife, the labor nurse, or whomever you have been instructed to call. Other signs of premature labor to watch for include a backache that won’t go away, pressure low in your abdomen as if your baby is pushing down on your cervix, menstrual-like cramping, and increase in discharge or a bloody discharge from your vagina. Notify your midwife or your doctor if you notice these things. They will ask you to come to the hospital or the clinic where they can perform some tests to see if you are at risk of early delivery.