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What is Prodromal Labor and How Do You Manage It?

Prodromal labor is a type of early labor entailing contractions that become longer, stronger and closer together without a marked change to the cervix. These mild to strong contractions are closer to real labor than Braxton-Hicks, which are lessened by sleep, hydration or a nice warm bath. Prodromal labor is, however, different from actual labor in that the cervix doesn’t dilate.

Symptoms of Prodromal Labor

• Having difficulty sleeping due to contractions
• Lack of cervical dilation
• Continued contractions despite rest, hydration or a warm shower or bath
• Contracting in a pattern that then goes away

How can I tell the difference between prodromal and active labor contractions?

Prodromal labor can be difficult to distinguish from actual labor since it is often painful and can occur in a regular pattern. However, there is often a break between them and active labor. Prodromal contractions don’t advance labor, increase in intensity or frequency, or cause dilation or effacement of the cervix.

It’s not always easy to figure out whether your are experiencing true labor or not. Since prodromal labor contractions may occur very close together and can be very painful, it may be difficult to distinguish it from active labor without a doctor’s assessment. For women who have experienced prodromal labor before, it may be easier, however for a first pregnancy it can be confusing.

If you do visit a doctor, they will usually begin by gathering information about the contractions – how long they’ve been going on for, whether or not they have increased in intensity, and the timing. They will likely perform a pelvic exam to check the cervix for dilation or effacement. From these quick tests, a determination can be made as to whether you are in active labor or not.

Pregnant woman at home getting ready for childbirth

Should I call the doctor/midwife if I’m not sure it’s prodromal labor?

If you suspect prodromal labor, you can try waiting it out to see how things progress, but there is absolutely no problem if you want to call your doctor. Your provider is used to hearing from expecting moms when they are worried, so it is always better to call and make sure. As mentioned above, it can be very difficult to tell the difference between active labor and prodromal labor without a pelvic exam.

Signs that prodromal labor is progressing into active labor

Without a pelvic exam, it can be difficult to tell when prodromal labor progresses into active labor. However, if your contractions become more frequent (less than five minutes apart) and last longer (a minute or more), it’s a good sign that you have progressed into active labor. Call your provider and figure out whether and when you should come into the hospital.

African-american pregnant lady suffering from stomach spasms, touching belly, sitting on bed

How to Manage Prodromal Labor

Managing prodromal labor can be different from woman to woman, but there are some recommended ways you can work to alleviate symptoms. Bear in mind, however, that if your prodromal contractions are severe, you should contact your OBGYN or midwife to discuss medication that can help you cope.

Here are some good ways to manage your prodromal labor:

  1. Speak to your birthing professional

Let your doctor or midwife know about your contractions and ask for their advice.

  1. Rest and Relax

Don’t be afraid to take a nap or ask a friend or partner for a massage to help you relax. You may even want to visit a professional massage therapist certified in prenatal massage.

  1. Stretch

Yoga or gentle stretching is good for pain relief, as it helps to ease muscle tension associated with prodromal labor.

  1. Try a warm bath or shower

Soaking yourself in a warm bath or shower can help to relax the body and mind, thus easing discomfort. If your birth professional gives the go-ahead, you can even add essential oils such as peppermint or lavender to the water for extra effect.

  1. Acupuncture

Find an acupuncturist with experience and professional certification to work on pregnant women.

  1. Change your position

Regularly changing positions can help you find what is most comfortable. Try laying on your side, sitting upright in a soft chair, standing or walking with support or gently bouncing on a birthing ball.

Happy pregnant woman sitting and touching her belly at home
  1. Eat

For an unlucky few, prodromal labor may cause nausea or vomiting. However, if you are feeling okay, this is a great time to fill your belly with healthy, high protein food. This can mean eating a hearty meal or indulging in a nice snack. Great options include a bowl of oatmeal, scrambled eggs, dried fruit or nuts, granola bars, or even a fruit smoothie.

  1. Gentle exercise

Turn on your favorite upbeat music and let yourself dance and sing along. Take a gentle walk with headphones on or gather the troops for a 30-second dance party. Don’t overdo it, of course, but allowing yourself to move around can help you find a bit of relief from the pain of prodromal labor.

  1. Practice your breathing

Prodromal labor, while potentially frustrating, is a great time to prepare for your actual labor and delivery. Practice deep breathing as learned in childbirth class, online or by your doctor. This is also a great time to practice meditation.

  1. Stay hydrated

Dehydration can definitely bring on prodromal labor, so it is important to keep yourself properly hydrated. Water is always a good choice, but you can also try other hydrating liquids such as coconut water, orange juice, electrolyte drinks, bone broth, smoothies or juices. There are also plenty of pregnancy-safe teas you can try.

  1. Share your struggle

Prodromal labor can cause a lot of emotional distress on top of the physical stress. Often times, sharing your struggle with others can help you feel stronger and more motivated in the days leading up to childbirth. Try speaking with a friend or family member, your healthcare provider, or even a therapist.

  1. Try visualization

There’s a lot to be said for positive thinking and affirmations. If you’re up for it, try closing your eyes and visualizing yourself with your new baby after they are born. Or, if you’re finding this ineffective, try journaling your future instead.

One thing to remember is that prodromal labor comes toward the end of your pregnancy, so try to keep in mind that it won’t take long for it to turn into actual labor. That means you’re very close to actually meeting your beautiful baby.

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