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How to Survive Prodromal Labor

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La Donna Gravida by RaphaelMost 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.

27 responses »

  1. Yeah, that. I never knew the term though, even after experiencing it in each of my 8 pregnancies. I was always told ‘Braxton Hicks.’ But these babies HURT! I spend much of the last two + months half crying because it’s so dragged out, and so painful. I’ve always felt like, ‘either go into labor, or leave me alone!’ but alas. These are great moments to work out our purgatory time on Earth, don’t you think??!! 🙂

    Missed you! Congrats on a new baby! My latest was born in July, how about yours?

  2. dayswithoutlines

    I guess I’m one of the lucky 15%. BOTH of my last two L&Ds started with my water breaking like a scene from a movie! I’m glad I’ve never had to deal with prodromal labor! I really feel for those who do!

  3. Lol, yep. Mine started little over 2 months prior to LO arrival. At 33 weeks they were enough that i actually had a hospital weekend for possible preterm. 5+hours of every 2minutes plus the hours id spent at home. It drove me so crazy and emotionally it was so difficult. We ended up with 6hospital trips from 8-14hour stretches of contractions (plus 2extra for bp). And yes, the day LO arrived it was the same thing for the first 5-6 hours, then a bit more intense for another 8hours, before officially being in active and the following 6hours through active/transition and 2hours of pushing. Fingers crossed for less crazy this time around!(23wks currently)

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  5. Thank you for this excellent post! I’d never heard of prodromal labor until very recently, and I’ve been dredding my upcoming labor, not because of the pain, but because of the potential embarrassment of being sent home multiple times with “Braxton Hicks”. My first LO was born 72h after what seemed like regular contractions began. My husband had to drag me to the hospital for the 4th (and final) time, because I was so fed up with being dismissed by the L&D nurses as a wimpy, hysterical first-time mom. (“When *real* contractions start, you’ll know.”) This time, my OB suggested Ambien to help me sleep, and my daughter was born two hours after I woke up the following morning. Perhaps those contractions were “real” after all….

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  7. I think this is what I’m currently going through, exhausted!
    Same time of day for the last 3 days, 3am hits and everything settles down. BH are easy in comparison and a hard bump is easily remedied as you have said. But these, these aren’t the same. I feel bruised and frustrated

  8. This is me! I cried today to my midwife and my friend who is in midwifery school. They both told me prodromal labor, and that hopefully the surge of hormonal tears means it’s close for me, fingers, toes, eyes, arms and legs crossed! This is my third baby, my other two, contractions, mucus plug, labor. So going through these contractions at 2am every day for four days now has been complete torture. I am glad to know that I am not alone and that this is also normal. Sending love to all of you sufferers!

  9. I’m so glad to finally figure out what I’ve been going through all this time! Everyone tried saying I was having Braxton Hicks or false labor, etc… And I’m over here thinking “REALLY??? Constant mild contractions every 3-5 min for hrs and hrs sure doesn’t sound like Braxton Hicks!!!”
    This is my third time with prodromal labor. My mother had 7 kids with a total birthing time of 19 hrs… It took me 40 hrs just for my first son and then thankfully with a doula, only 20 hrs for our second son… But still, 60 hrs for 2 kids compared to 19 hrs for SEVEN! The plus side was I had both boys right at 38 weeks. Tomorrow I’m 38 weeks and I admit the pressure is high to feel like I should have this baby any moment. I’ve had prodromal like labor for the last 2 weeks and especially the last week. It’s painful, but bearable, coming every 3-5 minutes for large portions of the day. If they aren’t painful, they’re still there at least every 15 minutes pretty much non-stop. All three boys tend to be posterior, but this one I’ve been able to get to the LOA position for periods of time thanks to the spinning babies website.
    On the one hand, I want baby to come when he’s ready, but on the other hand, I’ve already delivered 2 healthy babies at this point and I’m DONE! I do tend to have a lot of fluid though, which I feel greatly contributes to the lack of progress from constant contractions. My first I had to have an epidural after 26 hrs of very, very slow progressing labor. My second I was able to use natural techniques and had a natural birth. Both, however, they had to break my water… Then things went really fast with my natural labor… Like 30 min!!! Pushing with both was easy too. Just a few pushes and they were out!
    My heart goes out to all the mommies who experience this kind of labor. It’s very taxing emotionally and physically. Of course both births were also after only 3 hrs and no hrs of sleep… Not a fun way to start such long process labors so REST UP WHILE YOU CAN!!!

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  12. Wish the nurses in L&D were more educated on this. Even this past weekend I said I experienced prodromal labor to someone who turned out to be a L&D nurse. Her response was the dismissive “you’d know when it’s the real thing.” At the time, I got that from the nurses each time I went into the hospital, too. The second doctor I saw at least knew the term “prodromal labor,” but his offer of tylenol as help made me realize that he didn’t really understand it. And when I asked how I would know when to come back he, too, said I should wait for the pain to be more intense. (At that point I already felt pretty much like I did when I had an ovarian cyst rupture)

    After the first day, where I got a few hours of relief, my contractions never let up and just got worse. Last I bothered timing them it was 2 min long 3 min apart if I moved, a little further apart if I was completely still. I have a pretty high pain tolerance, but it was intense and I couldn’t sleep or eat – even started vomiting what I was drinking. Knowing it could go on for another week (my due date) or more made me realize that I’d be too weak and exhausted when it did turn into the real thing.

    I got an epidural (I had a button so I could keep it at a lower dose and still have some movement/feeling) and ended up being induced (after seeing if the epidural would help and then having my water broken). Once I got the pitocin, it went well. Happy I did it that way – the time between having the epidural and giving birth seemed relaxing in comparison and gave me a bit a “rest” so I was able to spend some bonding time with my baby when she arrived. I had done a Bradley method class – obviously, nothing went as I had planned, but hey, sometimes “natural” isn’t best.

  13. Surviver wants tips and stories

    I had prodromal labour for 5 days, having contractions every 7 minutes or so, without any breaks (so no sleep either). On day five I begged for any help whatsoever, even considering drugs (not good for the baby). They checked me before and all of a sudden I was 6cm and finally able to give birth. I was completely surprised, cause nothing had changed; the pain stayed the exact same! I wanna have another baby, but I wonder if anyone knows of a way to not have to go through this again (medically)? Or if anyone is willing to share their own experience with me? I’m glad I went to an amazing personal breathing class, cause I would not have been able to endure it without those techniques!

  14. I’ve always had this with each of my pregnancies. I actually did go into early labor with my first, and the second one, each time I got a contraction they would last for hours 5-10 minutes apart (sometimes 2 minutes), and they would take my breath away and make me so ill. I walked around 6 dilated with my second from 34 weeks to 38 weeks. This pregnancy isn’t much better. Waves of pure tortured nausea with each contraction and then they stop. I’ve just learned that I need to wait longer than most pregnant wonen do before calling the doctor. It is absolutely miserable. I never knew there was a term for it until now. I thought I was just odd/strange.

  15. I’m in the midst of prodromal labour. Have had it for days and nothing the last two days. Didn’t have it for my first child (thank God!). Am 40+5 with induction looming ahead and can say this is possibly one of the most draining things ever. Led me to change OB just five days ago to buy myself some time but I do wish it will progress to active labour already!!

  16. mommy of 5 an so done with this go around

    OMG I never knew this was posable its driving me crazy I never knew there was a name for it we r on baby #5 an all my others were like 4-5hrs done baby here all good to go an I go all natural so much easier. but holly cow I am so ready for something anything its been 1week an 5day but the last 5days have been the worst 5days ago I head to L&D they check me I am only a flipping 2cm 50%thin an baby is at -1 so I am have contractions 2-5min apart an they said well u didn’t change after an hr so we r sending u home an we normaly say come back if u have more than 4-6 in an hr but since ur past that just wait till u cant handle it anymore I was like really thanks so fast forward 5days with no sleep walking a million milles sex nipple stim. pineapples bananas squts up an down stairs an a bit of castor oli I see my doc today an he says well ur still a flipping 2cm no change at all I am so ticked an tired it hurts to sit to stand to lay it just flat out hurts an this aint my first I never take pain meds so I flipping know what labor feels like an all my kids r 6 an under they r 6,4,2,18mon so its not like its been 3-4yrs I just did this GRRRRRRRRR SO FLIPING DONE

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  18. Going thru this now. Had it for 3 days with #1 before delivering at 36 weeks with melds. Want a natural birth this time and these contractions started at 35 weeks and it’s been 3 days. Went to L&D because signs of preterm labor. They said I was 3cm and 50% effaced, baby at -3. Been told to keep it easy to keep the baby cooking, which means this labor will continue. Good to know I’m not crazy and actually feeling real contractions… My pain tolerance is relatively high I’ve been told. Glad I’m not alone!

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  20. Suffering through this right now. I’m 36weeks and some. I have a cerclage and I think that’s what’s causing the Prodromal contractions – if I wasn’t stitched shut then there would be more dilation, ect. I can’t think straight and I feel defeated because I keep going through the motions but still no baby. Thanks for posting this otherwise I might never have known I’m not going insane (since I’ve never heard this term from any of the doctors or nurses I’ve seen in the last two weeks. I’ve just been labeled “dehydrated” multiple times.)

  21. Thank you for this article. I was starting to loose it. Can’t stop crying, im so exhausted. Contractions for the past 60 hours. Everywhere i read or hear “you ll know when it’s real”. This is my first, so no im just doubting myself.
    The nights are the worst. Nonstop pains, thinking you re going to have birth on your sofa. But then 5-6oclockish, they stop. Nothing. Nadda. All i ve left with is a kind of residu-pain, back acke, rib acke, stomach acke (to sick to eat properly)… I can sleep in the mornings until the contractions rollercoaster starts allover again. Any story of “it took 10hours to birth”, im jalous off. Glad to be able to read these!!
    …Allthough, if it would last another 60hours, i dont think i would survive.

  22. Im sooooi glad I came across this article. I was already thinking I was losing my mind!
    I’ve been un labor for 3 weeks already and tomorrow is my due date. 3 weeks with regular and mild pain during contractions. 3 weeks thinking: today is the day. Im exhausted.
    Thanks to this article Im kind of relieved knowing Im not alone. I really hope this birth will be 100% natural!!

  23. I am currently experiencing prodromal labor and at work! I’m really hoping that my little one comes soon and ends this! Thanks for the information to enlighten me a bit more on this as I have never heard of it before.

  24. Currently going through prodromal labor right now! I’m 37 weeks with my first baby and it’s been off and on for a week and a half now with two 5 hour session of nearly full labor. Feeling mentally exhausted and just want to meet my baby. It’ll be hard but I’m going to try to implement the advice of going to sleep regardless of contractions. Thank you!


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