If you’ve ever experienced it, it’s like I just said a really nasty cuss word. If you’ve never experienced it, please… allow me to enlighten you.
Prodromal labor is a pattern of contractions that can begin anytime in the last few weeks of your pregnancy. It can hurt. It can feel like active labor. It can keep you up at night, it can last for days, it can totally exhaust you and your partner. Prodromal labor contractions may be far apart, close together, short, long, painful, or mild.
But here’s the kicker - these contractions are more annoying than they are productive. Prodromal labor contractions can start and stop at any time. It can be absolutely miserable, especially when you’re trying to plan your life around this labor that never seems to truly start, and worse… never seems to end. Active labor results in cervical change. That means your cervix (the opening of the uterus) gets soft (effacement) or open (dilation). Prodromal labor doesn’t cause any cervical change, though it can transition into active labor at any time - and only a cervical check can provide that particular information.
You may have heard the term “false labor,” which is a very bad, no-good term that we don’t use. I’m using it here so that you won’t have to. Just because prodromal labor contractions don’t immediately result in a baby doesn’t mean they’re false. Ask anyone who has experienced mind-numbing exhaustion from 3 solid days and nights of difficult contractions - that was not “false labor.” It’s very real and to call it “false” seems to imply that it wasn’t important or necessary. Prodromal labor does help with toning the muscles of the uterus and can lead to other physical preparation that your body goes through to have a baby. There is a meaning to all the madness.
Some other notable qualities of prodromal labor are that it can’t always be stopped, it is often painful, and sometimes occur at a particular time of day, like when you lay down to go to sleep at night. Prodromal labor contractions can seem like they’re occurring very quickly and for long periods of time, which is one reason it can feel like active labor is imminent.
So, how do I survive it?
We wrote a blog post a while back on ignoring early labor, and one of the big reasons we constantly urge our clients to ignore, distract, and rest during early labor is because of this… it may be prodromal. Seriously, people. If you think you’re in labor, that’s great! Contact your healthcare provider, contact your doula. But then… pull an Elsa and let it go. If you need to sit on your birth ball or relax in the bath, that’s ok - do what you need to do. But don’t jump in the car and head to the hospital just yet. You want to look for the sign that your contractions are getting longer, stronger, and closer together.
First, try drinking a big glass of water, changing your position (get up if you’ve been laying down, or vice versa), taking a nap, or laying in a relaxing bath. Sometimes, these minor changes can alter the trajectory of prodromal labor.
If you’re a do-er, find something to DO. Make food. Clean your house. Go shopping, go to a movie. Distract yourself. Don't time your contractions!
If you’re a worker, and you need to feel like you’re doing something to help yourself and your baby, check out The Miles Circuit. There has been some speculation in the birth world that prodromal labor may be related to a less-than-optimally positioned baby, and the Miles Circuit is a healthy, physical set of moves that gives you a job to do.
Otherwise...hang in there! Prodromal labor is tough, but it has a silver lining or two (I’m all about the silver lining!). It’s great practice for labor - you can test-drive positions that feel good, find comfortable places in your home to do contractions, work with your partner to find some massage techniques that feel good. It does bring baby closer through uterine muscle toning. And… it’s a time to truly find your strength and use the power within your body to do the work that needs to be done. And trust us… that’s also great training for parenthood <3