Most moms-to-be are surprised to find out labor won’t be what they’re expecting. Labor probably won’t start with their water breaking at a dramatic moment. (Only about 15% of women begin labor this way.) Some moms-to-be may not even be sure they have started labor at all.
Maybe you think you’ve started labor. You have to concentrate to cope with the pain of contractions. They come regularly. Maybe they even come less than five minutes apart. You rush to the hospital only to discover that you haven’t dilated. You aren’t in active labor at all. But the painful contractions just keep coming.
You may be in prodromal labor.
What Is Prodromal Labor?
The word “prodromal” comes from the Greek word for “precursor.” It describes the signs of a labor that may appear before active labor actually begins. A woman in prodromal labor will experience labor as though she will deliver soon, even if she will not. Labor contractions with no baby in sight.
Prodromal labor may start and stop over a period of hours, days, or weeks. Or it may continue without progressing—the contractions never get more intense or closer together. Prodromal labor may become active labor at any time, so it can leave you expecting a baby any moment for weeks. As you can imagine, it isn’t an easy burden to bear.
How to Survive Prodromal Labor
Surviving prodromal labor is hard—as someone who has suffered through prodromal labor twice, I can vouch that the prodromal stage of my labors was much more physically and emotionally taxing than the active stage.
Here are a few ways you might be able to make your prodromal labor bearable:
Check with your doctor.
It isn’t fair, but there is no way to know whether prodromal labor has progressed to active labor. The longer you suffer through prodromal labor, the better you will get to know your body and how it labors—but only a pelvic exam can confirm whether you are in labor. (My active labor finally started after 2 weeks. I only found out I was dilating when my doctor examined me before the C-section we thought I needed!)If you’re experiencing labor symptoms for the first time or if something changes, call your OB It might be embarrassing to go into the hospital for a false alarm, but it’s better than having an unintentional home birth on your bathroom floor.
Understand that you are in labor.
My first obstetrician dismissed my contractions as Braxton-Hicks contractions, usually painless “practice” contractions that may start as early as the first trimester. “When you go into labor,” he said, “You’ll be able to tell the difference.”There is no difference between prodromal labor contractions and labor contractions. Prodromal labor contractions are labor contractions.
Prodromal labor doesn’t feel like Braxton-Hicks contractions. Braxton-Hicks contractions don’t usually hurt. You can usually relieve uncomfortable Braxton-Hicks contractions by changing position (usually from standing to lying down), drinking water, or taking a warm bath.
Prodromal labor contractions feel like the real thing because they are the real thing. The contractions are a part of your body’s preparation for delivery, even if you aren’t dilating. That means you aren’t a wimp for suffering or asking for help!
Learn to labor and to wait.
Because you are in labor, don’t be embarrassed to enlist the skills you’ve learned from your birthing class. Husband-coached birth techniques, Lamaze breathing, and relaxation techniques are just as useful now as they will be in the delivery room. Don’t be embarrassed if you have to get up from the dinner table to go down on all fours and groan—I sure did!Some birth professionals think prodromal labor may be the body’s way of correcting a baby’s poor positioning in the uterus. You might be able to prevent or shorten labor by inching your baby in the right direction. Spinning Babies is a well-regarded organization that offers on-line tutorials on getting your baby into place for delivery.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Women in active labor don’t cook for themselves or clean house. Contractions take concentration! And when those contractions fizzle out or don’t result in a baby, the emotional toll is high.If you have family or friends lined up to help after the baby is born, don’t be afraid to ask for help now. Prepared meals, help with the laundry, babysitting, and a listening ear can make a big difference in the way you feel about your labor.
A doula, an experienced woman who assists women through labor and childbirth, can be an excellent resource for all moms-to-be—but especially for women suffering through prodromal labor. Most women begin labor expecting to meet their babies in hours; a woman in prodromal labor may have to wait days or even weeks. When the challenge of labor seems insurmountable, a good doula helps a laboring mother keep a sense of perspective. The road ahead will be long and difficult, but there is a baby at the end. (I highly recommend doulas certified by Birthing from Within. It’s an organization that focuses on the family’s physical and mental health in the process of labor and delivery.)
Save your strength.
Adding intense contractions to heartburn, breathlessness, and the sheer size of a third-trimester pregnancy makes for some pretty sleepless nights! To make matters worse, it is hard to resist the temptation to stay awake each night, waiting to see if your prodromal labor turns into the real thing. But no matter how long it lasts, prodromal labor is only the first leg of the race.Go to bed every evening, whether you are having contractions or not. (Don’t worry. You can’t sleep through active labor!) Your OB might recommend a warm bath or even a small glass of wine to help lull you to sleep. You’ll need your rest if you plan to push.
Some women find it impossible to sleep. Your OB might recommend you come into the hospital for therapeutic rest. They will safely medicate you to put you to sleep until your labor starts to progress.
I hope you never suffer through prodromal labor. If you do, know that my thoughts are with you. What’s your labor story? Let us know in the comments.