Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Prodromal Labor

So you're having contractions around your due date, but you haven't actually produced a baby! Sound familiar? I'll bet some of you are already dilated (and/or effaced), but confused as to why this baby isn't sitting on the outside of your tummy yet!

Prodromal labor can be very confusing! Heck, it's not easy to remember the spelling either!

Prodromal labor is also known as "False Labor". Most women will say, "There's nothing false about what I'm feeling!" - and they are right!

Prodromal labor isn't all in vain. These annoying contractions condition the uterus, and prepare the cervix for dilation and effacement. In fact, sometimes the cervix may even dilate and efface as a result. It’s all about your body preparing for the big day. Let’s talk about the differences between Prodromal labor and the real thing.

1. Prodromal ‘labor’ may begin hours or days (and do I dare say weeks?) before active labor. (If you experience more than 4-6 contractions in an hour and you are not in your 36th week yet, consider the prospect of it actually being preterm labor).
2. They may feel like Braxton Hicks contractions but sometimes they can be much stronger.
3. Unlike true labor, where contractions usually become longer, stronger and closer together, prodromal contractions are irregular in duration, length and intensity.
4. They may have a pattern and show up about the same time every day (or night).
5. They will stop after a few hours.. (Okay, maybe longer than that for some of you!)
6. They may or may not be affected by your activity. Sometimes a warm bath will make them go away, and on other days, it may run it’s usual course - leaving you to wonder if *this time* it’s truly the real thing!
7. Your cervix may begin to dilate, and efface and you may lose your mucous plug. Nothing false about that!

Many women head to the hospital only to find out after a few hours that it was 'false labor'. In other words, the contractions stopped. You may have dilated, or effaced but everything came to a screeching halt. Being sent home can be emotionally confusing. You are left to wonder how you will know when it *is* the real thing. You might be embarrassed to head back up to the hospital the next time, and then you wonder about giving birth on the side of the road! (For those of you birthing at home, the scenario might be different of course...but for sake of time and length, I'll let you fill in your own scenario blanks).

Most women figure it out. It may take more than one trip to the hospital (or call to the midwife), but don't worry.. eventually you'll end up in true labor that will produce a real baby. Most care providers are used to this type of labor, and would rather you be seen if you feel the need, then miss your birth all together. Typically in true labor, the contractions will become stronger, longer (in length), and closer together. With Prodromal labor, contractions might be 30 seconds one time, and a minute long the next, followed by another one that is 45 seconds. You might have one at 7:00, another at 7:10, one at 7:12, and then another at 7:20. The pattern is usually inconsistent.

Can you make them go away? Can you stop the contraction by changing your position? Will they slow down with a warm bath or shower? What about if you eat or drink? Now with Braxton Hix Contractions, these things will usually make them go away. The problem with Prodromal labor is that sometimes these things can make them go away, but there's a good chance they will keep coming. However, you should always have an idea in an hour or two. Most women do not have labors that fast, and if they do, they almost always figure it out in time! Real labor will feel slightly different when it finally kicks in.

Why does it happen? Although I don't have an evidence based answer for this question, I will tell you what I've learned from personal observations. There might be an emotional reason (perhaps a fear the mother hasn't quite worked through). Sometimes it seems like the body tries to do it's job, but our heads get in the way and talk us out of it. (The mind is a powerful thing ya know!). Once the mother faces her fears, or the fear is resolved, she goes into labor. Perhaps the fear connection is coincidental. It may also be that our bodies are just revving up for the big day, and needs a few practice sessions first. I've got a feeling that more often than not, its caused by the baby's position. It's like the body needs to use those contractions to align the baby's head just right. A positioning tool! I'm not talking about a breech baby, I'm thinking more along the lines of a posterior baby, or an acynclitic head. Once your baby has moved into a decent position to put proper pressure on that cervix, off you'll go!

Here's a tip: Spend some time on your hands and knees. At the very least, try forward leaning positions while sitting or standing. If your baby is truly posterior, you may be able to let gravity turn that head the way it should be for an easier birth. If baby is already in a good anterior position, he'll just stay that way, so it won't hurt anything to try anyway.

Finally, relax - and let your body do its work. You may find your labor easier, and perhaps a bit faster if you were blessed with prodromal labor. Take advantage of these contractions and practice your relaxation, breathing or whatever you plan to use to cope with labor. EVEN if you plan on an Epidural - because planning an Epidural does not always guarantee you will get one in time, or that it will work like you expect it to. It's always good to have a back up plan :-)

30 comments:

Navywifeandmom said...

Never had prodromal labor but I've dealt with precipitous births! As nice as those sound, they aren't fun, either!

Amy said...

I found this very helpful. I had contractions several hours yesterday that never stopped and never helped to really move my body beyond 1 centimeter or 60% effaced. I did end up spending the night in the hospital. They hurt at times they went away at times they intensified. I guess I get to take this one as it comes and learn from it. Thanks for teaching me this it was interesting to learn. Hey I also did lose some of my plug due to the exams last night. So I am not due till April 14th but hey I am getting close!

~The~Birth~Teacher said...

Hi Amy,
I know you will be 'term' soon, but you still have a month to go! Sorry you are experiencing the joys of prodromal labor, but it's probably a good thing they didn't kick into real labor yet. Your body is working perfectly - so hang in there :-)

Sarah said...

It might be interesting to know that with some women who labor prodromally, "real" labor contractions resemble false ones in that they are not necessarily regular. (And conversely, some "false" labor contractions can be very regular and consistently long and strong and last much more than a few hours). This can add to the confusion of prodromal labor considerably.

I have a blog on Prodromal Birth to help women not feel alone and make good choices when they find themselves in this pattern of labor. It is www.nmfrogblog.blogspot.com.

Good to see a birth teacher acknowledge the existence of prodromal labor. Some "professionals" (including birth instructors) don't believe it is a valid experience.

The Mengers said...

This has been very helpful! I've been in "early labor" for 2 weeks now. Contractions come and go--rarely regular, sometimes intense. But they have always gone away within an hour or two. I've been dilated, but not very much effaced, and passed my mucus plug 2 weeks ago.

CK said...

I had this happen with all three of my births so far and it is good to put a name to the condition (besides "false" labor... that just sounds depressing).
With the third birth I had so much prodromal labor that I still wasn't completely convinced I was in labor when I had my routine scheduled midwife appointment. She checked me and it turned out I was at a 6!!!- even though my contractions had paused (again). Don't worry-45 min later they picked back up again and I hit a seven shortly after that.

Joy D said...

So glad I found this. I knew there had to be a name to what I've been experiencing. For the past week or so, about every other night, I've had long bouts of contractions every 3-15 minutes lasting about a minute each for anywhere from 5 hours to FIFTEEN hours. The first few times it was very frustrating when they finally came to a halt (generally between 4am-6am); now I'm just kind of ignoring it. These are not Braxton-Hicks -- usually they're pretty intense & painful and I have to pay attention do some conscious breathing to work through them.

At this point, I think when I actually DO go into labor I'll just be in denial until the head starts popping out!

MrsPride said...

This happened to me yesterday! Started at 10 AM at the grocery store and lasted all dat until about 8 PM. I went to the doc around 4 and I was told that although I was having contractions they were not intense enough to cause me to dilate more. I have been sitting at about an inch dilation and 50% effaced for 3 weeks, so frustrating. Although the contractions did not "hurt" they were uncomfortable and very consistent. Craziness!!! and very annoying! Glad it hnas a better name than false labor, although the doc did not call them that thank god, I felt crazy enough. Glad to read that it is more than Braxton Hicks as I have had those since about 6 months or so. Also very cool that it may make my true labor easier!! I am all for that!!!

Shaina N said...

I had prodromal labor with my (posterior) first daughter from 35-39 weeks. I still never went into labor... I went to the hospital to be checked and was at 6cms, they kept me and broke my water the next day. I had my daughter that night.

I'm 36 weeks pregnant with my second daughter. She's anterior, but I've still been having contractions for a week. I have semi regular contrax from 6-10pm every day. I have them when I'm on my feet. I just got back from the hospital tonight after having contractions every 4 minutes (sometimes longer, sometimes shorter) for 3 hours. And my contractions started at 1 today instead of 6. My cervix hadn't changed from almost a week ago (although I am at 2-3 cms, 50% effaced, -1 station), so my midwife sent me home. The nurse said I didn't have prodromal labor, but just an irritable uterus... But after reading about both, I definitely fit in the prodromal category! While i'm fine with my little girl staying in another month, I'm already quite sick of this prodromal stuff! Plus I live 2 hours from the hospital, so I'm nervous I'll have the baby on the side of the road. I thought my labor the first time was simply because she was posterior... This time my kiddo is anterior! So frustrating! Thank you for letting me know I'm not alone!

Ashley Mommy said...

This post is a great description of what I've been dealing with for a couple weeks. Passing it along to my husband - he's getting frustrated at all the 'false alarms' ... we haven't gone to the hospital yet, but we've been ready to go a couple times.

herbalmama1001 said...

Thank you so much for this information! Great article. And I love reading all the other mamas' comments too so I know I'm not alone. My first daughter was posterior and born at 38 weeks after 2 full weeks of prodromal labor. I've already been having more intense prodromal labor with #2 - ctx 4 mins apart and lasting 1 min each. I hope it helps my husband understand I can't help the "false alarms" calling him home from work! But I do hate laboring this much alone.

Joanne Yanke Yoga said...

It is Easter Monday I am 38 weeks+2. Good Friday at 5:30pm I went straight into 1 min long contractions that were only 2 min apart. 7pm my midwife came a checked on me and I was 95% effaced and just starting to dilate (on the previous tuesday I had been 40% with lots of BraxHicks over the weekend). this regular contraction rate of 30 mild contractions an hour has lasted now for 3.5 days excepting slowing and allowing me a nights sleep each night. So nothing 'irregular' about it. So I am pleased, my body is working at very gently and slowly opening and when active labour comes I will be close if not fully dilated already. But we are also getting impatient knowing that when it does happen it will likely be quick to happen. Yay for home birth plan! I teach prenatal yoga and well educated in the science and nature of birth but didn't really expect this. Friday we thought it was 'time'!

piglet said...

I am currently preggers with number three and like normal dialated to a five with two weeks to go. I am really frustrated when trying to explain this situation to other people, they think I'm crazy or full of it. But with my last child I was at a 7 and finally asked to be induced, big mistake, no epidural and 40 minutes later my son was born, but he was horribly bruised and I bled out....I am currently trying to keep myself in a zen zone so I don't try to get induced again, but I'm feeling super Grouch today. I'm glad to know I'm not alone.

HippieMom333 said...

I'm expecting my 2nd daughter and she's posterior (yay!) and I've been having pretty bad contractions since Thursday night and it's Wednesday! They've been irregular, but at night they're bad enough to wake me several times throughout the night. I'm pretty much exhausted and so ready to have this baby. I'm only 2cm dilated and 37.5 weeks, so my midwife said this may go on for another week :(

Considering the fact that I've had an irritable uterus and have been having Braxton Hicks since 16 weeks, I really wish this baby would just come already!

Sandra Brower said...

I'm almost 30 weeks pregnant and noticed that my contractions are coming at the same time every day. They're not strong, they only last about 30 seconds, and I only notice about four each day, but the last one I remember before going to bed last night was at 2:36 am and the last one I remember tonight was also at 2:36 am. The first one I notice when I wake up typically happens just an hour or two after I get out of bed. I'm pretty sure it's Braxton Hicks, but it does seem that since my contractions are fairly predictable, then if I pay closer attention to the contractions than I did in my previous pregnancies (this is my sixth), I might be able to get a little bit of an idea as to when I might go into labor. This article was very informative.

Lydia said...

I had never heard of prodromal labor until one of my friends went through it. And then I never expected that I myself would experience it, especially since I didn't have any kind of labor signs with my first child until my water broke on its own. I'm currently 35 weeks pregnant and have been experiencing prodromal labor since about 30 weeks. Let me tell you, I am emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausted! I will have contractions for nearly 7-8 hours out of the day, with them starting out mild and progressively getting more intense and closer together as time goes on. This happens almost every day and usually through the night. At one point, I did go into active labor, when I jumped from 1.5 cm to 3 cm in less than 8 hours. After spending nearly two days in the hospital, the progression stopped, and I was sent home.

One of the most frustrating things is that people who haven't experienced prodromal labor treat you as though you're just being a child or exaggerating. But, let me tell you, what we prodromal laboring mommies go through is exhausting and is very very real. My contractions get so intense that I will feel the need to push and will remain doubled over, unable to breathe, and in tears from the pain. Though I know he would be pre-term, it's hard not to wish for him to just calm already. After having dealt with this for 5 weeks, the thought that I could possibly deal with this for another 5 weeks is beyond daunting. The doctors have even had to prescribe me ambien, just so that I can sleep through the night.

It is very discouraging to constantly go into the hospital, thinking it's the real thing, and then get sent home. It's so hard to know when it really is the real thing. I'm not the only one exhausted by this. My husband too is beside himself. We've just resorted to making the decision that we will not go back to the hospital unless something obvious (like my water breaking or heavy bleeding) happens. Though I fear the possibility of having a baby at home, the constant upheavel is just too exhausting.

Thank you for your post. I think it is good for more people to become aware of this.

Jordon said...

For nearly five weeks (since I was 35 weeks) I've been 5 cm dilated. Last week at my appointment, I was 6 cm dilated. I've been 90-100% effaced this whole time. I've gone to the hospital twice. My husband took the first two weeks off to watch me. I feel like I don't even want to call my family or friends because they are all hoping I'm calling them to tell them I've had the baby.

I have contractions almost every evening. I am to the point where I don't believe I'll ever really go into labor. Each time contractions seem stronger or more regular, I get my hopes up, and I am crushed.

Thank you for this post. It was encouraging. I will be hoping my baby is in a good position soon! My due date is in just three days!

measureofagift said...

Thanks for posting this!I've had this pattern of labor for EVERY baby. Now I'm 32 weeks with baby no. 4. It is so frustrating, because often the last month of pregnancy is completely held hostage by this pattern. What makes it even more frustrating is that my Dr. just tells me they are braxton hicks contractions and not to worry. But they feel, and act VERY differently from Braxton Hicks! The one thing that makes it all bearable s that "true" labor goes quickly for me. 5 hours with my first, 4 with my second, and 3 hours total with my third. I am very nervous, since last time I almost had the baby in the car, things moved that fast, but we're ready for a quick labor, right nown to packed bags, arranged childcare, and the OB being warned. Doesn't mean the Dr. will act on that, but they know! lol! They just keep missing my births because they don't come to the hospital quickly enough! That being said, I know a nurse who is FANTASTIC at delivering babies! :D

measureofagift said...

Thanks for posting this!I've had this pattern of labor for EVERY baby. Now I'm 32 weeks with baby no. 4. It is so frustrating, because often the last month of pregnancy is completely held hostage by this pattern. What makes it even more frustrating is that my Dr. just tells me they are braxton hicks contractions and not to worry. But they feel, and act VERY differently from Braxton Hicks! The one thing that makes it all bearable s that "true" labor goes quickly for me. 5 hours with my first, 4 with my second, and 3 hours total with my third. I am very nervous, since last time I almost had the baby in the car, things moved that fast, but we're ready for a quick labor, right nown to packed bags, arranged childcare, and the OB being warned. Doesn't mean the Dr. will act on that, but they know! lol! They just keep missing my births because they don't come to the hospital quickly enough! That being said, I know a nurse who is FANTASTIC at delivering babies! :D

SolaVoz said...

I've gone through prodromal labor for the last 4 of my births! The last two boys had been posterior and significantly larger that my first three and didn't turn until the last minute. I am on all fours now, with passing of dark mucus plug with sharp contractions every 15-20-10 etc and they sure wake me. I'm exhausted. This obe measure a lb more as well so I am doing all I can to turn him while he feels like he is chiseling his way out. One more thing-last labor (4 days) because of his position i was timing more spaced but he nurse said they were every two minutes by the time I reached hospital. Also after pushinv so ling eithout him turning my cervix started to close to 9/8 around his head and Dr had to (oooow) lift and pull cervix ovr his head while I pushed. Most painf labor ever.

Alejandra Avina said...

Im 39 weeks prego and im having my contractions or dont know if they real but I have one at 12:10 and stop like one to two mins and the another one at 12:20

katri said...

Last night I had this... for 9 hours, radiating to my back and down my legs, at 8-12 minutes apart almost the whole time. For 2 hours it was absolutely consistent and I nearly called the midwife. These are not the normally occurring braxton hicks I've been getting since 20 weeks along. These are consistent and painful, resembling real labor (this will be my third). Today since they've stopped, I'm so exhausted I feel like I have the flu and my body aches... when I wiped up, the baby was engaged, but disengaged this morning. I'm 37 weeks and really hoping this doesn't happen again tonight!

katri said...

I meant when I woke up, not wiped up...

Katrina Calhoun said...

This is very comforting to read. My DOULA informed me of this birth pattern and I was hoping I wouldn't have it. 32 weeks along, I've been contracting for about 20 hours!!!! :-( my mom is annoying the hell out of me making me feel like a baby for trying to do things that ease the pain. I had to finally distance myself and say I love you, but I make my own decisions. Thank you and stop touching me. Lol glad to know I'm not alone. Haven't slept much today at all. Hopefully they'll subside enough for me to get some rest. In the meantime screw the naysayers... Me and baby are gonna get through this as positively as we can! I'll keep the annoying folks away/at bay.

Tracey Louis said...

Well, it has been somewhat of a relief to discover I'm not alone and to put a name to what's been going on the last week or so. I'm full term, just had 24 hours of what I thought was long, drawn out early labor (after several other starts/stops this week of shorter duration) and was just feeling really mentally defeated. My doula and I just talked about prodromal labor and I found this post and comments...feeling a little better about the circumstances and in my search to just accept my circumstances and be assured that baby will be here soon in spite of the irregularity.

kesi said...

Im glad im not alone omg i went to the hospital and all labs were good but like most said mine were consistent and not the normal bh they started in my back and turned into contraxtions over a few days im 31 weeks .. People keep telling me ow its nothing u r over reacting they get worse .. As if we dk that they start like this tho this is the beginning stage most people dont pay enough attention to realize it! Until tgeir water breaks and they r full blown

Unknown said...

I absolutely experienced this. It entirely on for a whole month before my third child was born, and two days before my second. I blogged about it here http://mumsaremade.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/waiting/

Thanks for writing this informative post to reassure all those going through prodromal labour!

Unknown said...

Btw- in labour with my third child I went from 5 cm to baby in arms in 15 mins! Somewhat surprising, but in a nice way. All the warming up really got my body ready:)

bri hatcher said...

Thank u so much for this,, all of you. Ive been experiencing this for a week now and im 35 weeks along. I felt like I was crazy. I went to hospital tonight t8 find out im not dialated and my cervix only shortened a bit. Baby is settled nicely tho. So dr gave me some percocets and wants me back for ultrasound. This is my 3rd pregnancy. All different. Thanks for sharimg all your stories. Nice to know im not nutts and these contractions are real and do happen to others and can hurt bad.

Anna Geletka said...

I was aware of this but had no idea just how bad it could get. Exactly on my due date I started having contractions at 1am. These felt significantly different from earlier contractions - for one thing, they were painful. The pain intensified to the point where I could do nothing during a contraction except rock on my hands and knees, shaking and moaning. I showered, walked, squatted, rested, changed position, all multiple times. But still, contractions were anywhere from 5 minutes to 10 minutes apart. They lasted 1-2 minutes and the intensity remained high. After 30 hours of this I called the midwife begging for help. I ended up spending a few hours sleeping in the hospital with the help of iv fluids and morphine. By that point, I had been awake for almost 48 hours and was completely exhausted. I was 3cm dilated, had lost the mucus plug and had a lot of bloody show. I wish that I had had some warning of how truly intense these could be - I never found any resource (outside of comments on internet forums) that mentioned the potential duration and intensity of these early contractions.