Experiencing labor pains before your due date can be an exciting — and scary — time. You might have experienced Braxton Hicks contractions earlier in pregnancy, but now you’re feeling something different. If you’re experiencing painful, regular contractions that stop and start (instead of getting closer together), it might be prodromal labor.
Don’t panic, mama. Here’s everything you need to know about this painful, sometimes frustrating, but totally normal part of late pregnancy. We’ve got you!
Table of Contents 📝
- What is prodromal labor?
- What causes prodromal labor?
- How long does prodromal labor last?
- What does prodromal labor feel like?
- How to deal with prodromal labor
- Can you turn prodromal labor into real labor?
What is prodromal labor?
First up, it might help to know that the word “prodromal” comes from the Greek word meaning “precursor,” and that’s what this is: a precursor to real labor. Prodromal labor is the onset of contractions that are likely to be intense, and painful, but not actually progress into active labor.
Prodromal labor contractions are regular, often occurring every 5-10 minutes and lasting up to a minute each. But instead of intensifying and getting closer together, as they would in real labor, prodromal labor starts and stops spontaneously.
Unlike Braxton Hicks contractions (mild tightenings that you may feel from about 4 months gestation), prodromal labor contractions can’t usually be alleviated by rest or a change in position. Although prodromal labor contractions may cause your cervix to dilate very slightly, it won’t dilate or efface to the extent where you would lose your mucus plug, like in real labor.
If you do notice a large glob of mucus in your underwear, bleeding, or wetness like your waters have broken, it’s not a practice run, mama! It’s time to check in with your midwife or doctor!
What causes prodromal labor?
Although there is no one specific cause, there can be several reasons for prodromal labor, including:
- Your baby is breech — Prodromal labor contractions can be your body’s way of trying to turn your baby into the head-down position necessary for a vaginal birth. Hard work for a good cause!
- Anxiety — Excessive stress about pregnancy, birth, parenthood, or other matters can increase the likelihood of prodromal labor.
- Physical factors — Uterine changes due to previous pregnancies, other uterine abnormalities, or an uneven pelvis can contribute to prodromal labor.
Whatever the cause, prodromal labor, although not experienced by every mama-to-be, is normal and nothing to be afraid of.
How long does prodromal labor last?
Prodromal labor usually happens after week 37 of pregnancy, so even if you aren’t in real labor just yet, odds are you haven’t got that much longer to wait. The average prodromal labor episode lasts between 24-72 hours. They can also last for a couple of hours at a time but occur every day or at regular intervals.
But can prodromal labor last for weeks? Erm, yes, it can. It can be incredibly frustrating and exhausting to go through prodromal labor for an extended period, and we’re sorry if you’re going through this right now. Perfect excuse for some ice cream and Hallmark movies, right?
If, at any stage, you are worried about your or your baby’s health, your birthing team is there to answer your questions. Don’t worry about wasting anyone’s time; supporting you is what they’re there for.
What does prodromal labor feel like?
There’s no two ways about it: prodromal labor can be super painful! There is nothing false about this labor, as your uterus contracts just like in real labor. However, the pain is often only in the front of your belly, while for many mamas, real labor contractions can also cause pain in their lower back. Your cervix may be slightly dilated, but because it’s not dilating to the extent it will in the early stages of real labor, you shouldn’t experience a real take-your-breath-away kind of pain, or any urge to push.
With each contraction, you’ll likely feel an intense tightening across your abdomen that can last up to a minute, and it can be hard to go about your daily activities as if nothing is happening. Deep breaths, mama, you got this.
How to deal with prodromal labor
Everyone’s pain threshold is different, so there are varying techniques you can try to alleviate the discomfort of prodromal labor contractions. We suggest:
- Have a warm shower, with the water directed onto your abdomen.
- Bounce on a birth ball.
- Have a gentle walk, avoiding steep hills or tall stairs.
- Stay energized. If your prodromal labor continues for days, it may be easier to eat smaller meals more frequently.
- Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
- Distract yourself with a good movie or Netflix binge.
Can you turn prodromal labor into real labor?
Prodromal labor doesn’t necessarily mean your baby is ready to be born. And if your prodromal labor goes away without progressing to real labor, it doesn’t mean you’ll need an induction or a c-section. Prodromal labor is just your body’s way of warming up for the real thing.
The irregularity and spontaneous stop-start pattern of prodromal labor is what sets it apart from real labor. But even if it’s not your first pregnancy, it can be really hard to tell whether you’re in prodromal labor or the early stages of real labor.
There’s nothing you can physically do to turn prodromal labor into real labor. But keeping an eye on your contraction timings and concentrating on whether your contractions are getting more painful, closer together, or easing off, gives you a good indication as to whether you might be progressing into real labor.
This information can help your birth team give you advice over the phone if you decide to check in with them. Your doctor or midwife may suggest visiting them to get checked over.
Although uncomfortable, prodromal labor is a great time to put into practice some of your birth techniques. If you can, ask your birth partner to support you through this time to prepare you both for the big day. And as ever, mama, you are doing a great job!
Read more: Can You Take Ibuprofen While Pregnant?