I’ve discussed false labor before, but I want to address prodromal labor today. I believe I briefly touched upon it, but I recently had a few questions about prodromal labor that I wanted to address.
Some women know what it is, but I had no idea prodromal labor existed years ago before I had my daughters. Not until a friend of mine, Candace, had detailed her extensive experience. She went through it for a month up until her real labor. A MONTH!
This didn’t happen to me, so I polled some of my mama friends to garner their words of wisdom. My friend Ilsa told me that for her second child, she had prodromal labor the week before she gave birth. She was in the middle of her 38th week.
Ilsa called her doctor, thinking it was time, but the contractions would start, then stop. This kept happening at the same time every day for a week. So when she did go into official labor, she really didn’t believe it. When her water broke and began trickling down her legs, she said that’s when they hurried off to the hospital.
Not everything that can happen with pregnancy, giving birth, and raising our babies happens to all of us. My friends who went through prodromal labor said they’d wished someone had written about this topic in greater detail. As Ilsa told me, “I never even heard of it before it happened to me. And I read everything! Use your writing as a way to warn other women about what prodromal labor is and how to get through it, please!”
If you’ve read this far, and you’re like, “Leslie, what is this prodromal labor you speak of?” Allow me to enlighten you!
Prodromal Labor – What You Need to Know
Prodromal labor is often lumped in with false labor, but nothing is false. The contractions that come with it are genuine, excruciating, and very regular. But instead of progressing as in getting shorter in interval and dilation occurring, nothing comes of it.
It can come and go, often starting and stopping simultaneously every day or occurring in intervals. Ilsa had called her doctor about it because she was so sure the baby was coming. After all, she wasn’t a first-timer. It can truly fool anyone.
For some women like my other friend, Candace, it can last for a month or even longer. Yikes, right?
Again, prodromal labor shouldn’t be called false labor. Because it IS labor. It just starts and stops, and science isn’t too sure exactly why it does this. But they believe there are a few things that could cause it.
Why Does Prodromal Labor Happen?
Doctors have their theories, but according to Healthline, most concur that this is your body’s way of getting ready for the real deal.
A few factors seem to come up each time prodromal labor happens though that is worth noting.
For one, your baby’s position in the womb could set off prodromal labor. The human body is amazing, especially the body of a woman. The uterus uses contractions to help push your baby into place. It stops after some time and then restarts, perhaps to allow the body to rest. Women with a baby in a breech position seem to be the most prone to this.
Candace said after checking with her doctor, they found that her baby had been in the breech position. They had to do a c-section eventually because the baby didn’t change position.
While the baby’s position seems to be the most common finding among the medical community, there could also be abnormalities in the pelvic or uterine areas. Emotions and anxiety can also pave the way. And honestly, it is a very stressful, albeit very exciting time.
Oh, and before I forget, if you’ve had more than 3 pregnancies like my friends Vivien (yes, my breastfeeding coach) and Allison, then you are more likely to have prodromal labor. Again, no one is sure why, but the theory is that the uterus changes a lot after multiple pregnancies.
Is it the Same as Braxton Hicks?
Many women assume prodromal labor and Braxton-Hicks contractions are the same. I had Braxton-Hicks before but not prodromal labor. Ilsa had been through both. Prodromal labor doesn’t happen to every new mama or even every mama with more than one, two, three, or more children.
Braxton-Hicks seems to happen to several women. These are the contractions that are basically like a practice round. They make you feel tight and uncomfortable, but they aren’t intense. Nor are they regular. They are brief and never get stronger in intensity. Meanwhile, prodromal labor follows a regular pattern and gets more intense.
One way to tell is to grab a glass of water, eat something, or simply relax. If you have Braxton-Hicks contractions, they will disappear if you do any of these things. But if you have prodromal labor, it won’t change anything. In fact, prodromal labor will usually result in a slow dilation. It’s not just doing nothing.
So, what if you’re in prodromal labor and are at the end of your pregnancy…how do you progress to active labor? Good question!
Much of that requires you to dilate. Knowing how to check for that will help you figure out whether you’re ready or need to work in a few tips to coax your body into full-blown active labor.
What to Do to Get into Active Labor
Let’s say you’re sure it’s not Braxton-Hicks, and you’re sure you’re not in active labor. If you have contractions that start and stop with regularity, it’s prodromal labor. You can and should confirm with your doctor and always keep an open line of communication there. He or she will likely want to examine you if this continues.
And honestly, if you’re at the end of your pregnancy, you visit your OB/GYN once per week until the baby pops out. Be sure to express any concerns or changes you notice during these checkups.
Prodromal labor is exhausting. Candace’s ordeal was by far more extensive than Ilsa’s. She told me she was exhausted from having it happen to her every night before bed for the better part of a month.
But there is some good that can come from it. You can use it to practice labor by finding ways to relax and cope with that pain. Because that’s what real labor feels like. If you skipped out on Lamaze, practice breathing and finding ways to get through it.
In the hospital for my eldest, I was in labor, but because my water had broken in a spectacular movie-esque fashion, I was stuck in a bed and checked on often. I hadn’t dilated enough yet, and they said I had to wait until morning. So I should try to get some sleep. Only every 5 minutes, I kept being jolted by the horrific pains of my contractions.
My husband shushed me from the other bed, and I seriously thought about throwing my bedpan at his head. Finally, they came and rechecked me, and I was 6 cm dilated so I could be prepped for delivery. If you want to read that crazy story and how I wound up with a c-section, check it out.
Here is how to help yourself to turn from prodromal labor to a real one:
- Exercise to change position
My friends that had babies in the breech position strongly urge you to try moving around in a certain way to help your body coax the baby into the right position. Now, this may not work, and you may still have to have a c-section, but it can quell early contractions or result in speeding them up, too, and get you into real labor.
One of the most simple and effective things you can do is go for a nice walk. It will calm you down, especially if you put your fingertips behind your ears like a runner. This causes you to shift your pelvis and posture, which could encourage your baby to get into the right position. A 15-minute walk like this may push you from prodromal labor to active labor.
One of my friends was told to walk lopsided along a curve with one foot up and the other down. I don’t recommend this, though, as when you’re big and pregnant, balance is tough enough as it is. You could lose your balance and fall over, risking injury to you and your baby. If you want to try this, go with your spouse or a friend who can help you by providing an extra measure of balance.
- Take a look at your dilation
Let’s say you’re still at home. You still have prodromal labor. You’re exercising, trying to coax things along. You can check your dilation to see if you need to get a move on to the hospital.
You can measure things yourself, but because we’re not doctors in this field, it can be hard to tell if you understand your feelings.
Here are some interesting numbers:
Another way is to look for the purple line, according to January Harshe, who wrote Birth Without Fear. In her book, she references a 2010 study that BMC Pregnancy & Childbirth published about a purple line present in 76% of women. All you need is a mirror to find it. It extends along the crack in your buttocks, running from the anus to the cleft. When it gets to that point, you are 10cm dilated. It’s fascinating and worth looking for, especially if you don’t want to shove your fingers up toward your cervix.
- Get some rest
Whatever is going on here, you need your rest. So if your body is doing the prodromal labor thing a month before, as it did to Candace, and your doctor has confirmed you’re not dilated, you must try to sleep. I know it’s easier said than done, but your body needs that energy.
Candace offered some advice here, saying that since her prodromal labor happened each day like clockwork, she’d just take a good nap hours before that. Then she’d endure these contractions, they’d stop, and she would go to sleep at night. She said it helped her feel much better, and about a few days after doing that, she went into active labor.
You can use a pregnancy pillow too, which Ilsa said helped her. She would lie down with her bottom leg straight and her top leg curved toward her belly atop the pillow.
- Eat up
While prodromal labor seems to suck, the good news is that your active labor will be shorter. Once Candace went into active labor, she said it took maybe 3 hours, then gave birth. Ilsa said hers was about 2 hours.
Because of this, if you weren’t eating healthfully and drinking enough water before, fine-tune those skills. Your body needs you ready to handle labor. It’s such an exhausting process.
- Consider an inversion
Many experts recommend doing an inversion to help move the baby into proper positioning and prepping your ligaments for the strains of birth. While it looks weird, plenty of women have succeeded in doing this. Ilsa said she’d started doing it just a few days before she went into active labor. While she can’t say for sure, she does feel it possibly helped her move from one phase to the next.
I’ve heard that tale online countless times too. It might be worth discussing with your OB/GYN to see if trying that, or any other method could help move you from prodromal labor into active labor too!
Common Symptoms of Prodromal Labor
If you’re not sure if you’re in prodromal labor, knowing the prodromal labor symptoms to watch out for may clue you in:
- Your contractions come and go
- Also, those contractions have a pattern to them
- But those contractions don’t progressively get longer in duration, nor do they get closer together
- The contractions eventually stop too
And while you won’t be able to know this yourself, your cervix doesn’t dilate or efface during this time. Your doctor would need to conduct a pelvic exam to see if your cervix is changing.
FAQs About Prodromal Labor
Prodromal labor is a confusing time. I hope these FAQs will help you know a little more about what to expect when you’re getting ready for labor and delivery.
How long does prodromal labor last?
In essence, prodromal labor is the earliest sign that labor is starting. But since everyone has a different experience, you may have some general symptoms. You could have loose stools, or your mucous plug may have started to leak out. You could also nest (scrubbing the house from top to bottom).
And if this is how prodromal labor happens for you, you may not get contractions for several hours or even days. So, looking back, you’ll be like, OMG, that’s when I was starting labor. But you probably won’t notice, thanks to these vague symptoms.
Others mamas kick off this phase with contractions. They may be regular, but they don’t progress or get stronger, longer, or closer together for a while. So, prodromal labor may last from 24 hours to 72 hours. But beware that it could come and go throughout the course of a day, further complicating these confusing matters.
What does prodromal labor feel like?
Well, prodromal labor is a lot like real labor. The contractions could be painful or intense, coming as close as 5 minutes apart. And these contractions can come and go on regularly for an hour or more.
But honestly, I hate to break it to you, but you kind of know that this isn’t going to feel great, right? I know it’s scary, and boy does it hurt, but I swear to you that all that pain will flee from your mind when you hold that baby for the first time. And you’ll tell yourself you’re never doing it again. I know I did. And then I decided I wanted another baby.
The pain sucks. Real labor pain is even worse, but mama, you’ll never know love like the love you feel for your child.
Does prodromal labor cause dilation?
Not really. Prodromal labor contractions might make your cervix dilate in a very slight way. However, it won’t be to the point where your mucus plug comes out as in actual labor.
How can you tell the difference between these types of labor?
Both prodromal labor and real labor hurt. But there are some ways to differentiate between these phases.
With active labor, your contractions will get longer, stronger, and closer together as time goes on. Also, active labor features fun stuff like bleeding (bloody show) and leaking fluids.
If you’re not sure you’re in prodromal or active labor, drinking a glass of water or taking a shower may help clue you in. For prodromal labor, it will ease the symptoms. But for active labor, nothing will slow down that train.
Your contractions become more prolonged and powerful when you’re in active labor. You won’t be able to speak or concentrate when you’re in the active phase of labor. You’ll likely shriek in pain until the contraction passes.
How long after prodromal labor must I wait for active labor to begin?
Prodromal labor can start any time during the last month of your pregnancy. But to add to the confusion, it doesn’t mean active labor will happen later that day, tomorrow, or even in a week.
It’s so unpredictable, and what fascinates me most is that we have so much technology now and some genuinely amazing doctors. Yet NO ONE can accurately predict labor. Crazy, right?
Can prodromal labor lead to real labor?
Prodromal labor doesn’t automatically mean it’s baby time. It can go away without progressing. And when it does, it doesn’t mean you need to have a c-section or that you need to be induced. Think of it as a warm-up. You wouldn’t just go to the gym and start pushing yourself, would you?
Of course not! You’d warm up first. And thus, this is what your body is doing here with prodromal labor.
Does prodromal labor shorten active labor?
It may! But it depends.
If you have a long prodromal labor period, it is more likely your active phase of labor will be shorter. Your body has already gotten things ready, so when you move into active labor, it may not be much longer before you meet that tiny person who was kicking you.
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.