Prodromal Labor

Mar 15, 2022 | Birth Center

“Prodromal labor” is very common leading up to real labor. Some people call it “false labor;” however, we like to use the term “prodromal labor” because your body is trying to get ready for labor and birth. However, the uncomfortable contractions that one will experience during prodromal labor is typically not effective at making progress in regards to cervical change. Rather, it is often a sign that your baby is not in an ideal position, and your body is trying to turn your baby to a better position in preparation for birth.

Prodromal labor can feel very intense, even as intense or more intense than active labor contractions. If you’ve never given birth before, we understand that these descriptors are rather limiting. We hope that this blog will offer you some information to help you understand what is happening and how to cope during prodromal labor. 

What is Prodromal Labor?

As mentioned above, prodromal labor contractions can be moderately to very intense, not like Braxton hicks contractions, irregular in pattern, wrapping around to the back and hips, and often occur in the evening/night hours. These contractions can keep you up all night, night after night, for days prior to real labor, so it’s important to catch it early, make necessary adjustments and contact your midwife for assistance and reassurance. 

Real labor contractions typically get longer, stronger, and closer together over time and almost always have a regular, consistent pattern. So if the contractions you are experiencing do not follow that trajectory, they may be prodromal contractions. 

As your body is preparing for labor, baby’s position may change. Sometimes, prodromal labor happens such that your body and baby’s body can work together to get them in an optimal position for birthing. (Check out this Evidence Based Birth podcast about fetal position during labor here for some great info!) If you are feeling your baby’s movements in the front of your abdomen (instead of on your side), then your baby is rotated in a posterior position and this will cause prodromal labor. 

How to Navigate Prodromal Labor

  1. Honor the work your body is doing. It can be frustrating to think you might be in labor over and over again. We hear you! Practice positive self-talk and/or affirmations if these are practices that resonate with you.
  2. Stay in touch with your birth team. Especially when you aren’t sure if what you are experiencing is labor or prodromal, it can be helpful to be in touch with your midwife. Your midwife may have suggestions for comfort and may support you in recognizing the type of contractions you are having. (Note: many people head into the hospital or birth center during prodromal because they just aren’t sure. That’s okay! We are here to support you and figure it out.) The midwife can help you with an assessment, exercises, rebozo, and relaxation medicine such as Vistaril that will help stop the contractions and turn baby to a more favorable position.
  3. Practice using your comfort measures. Practice contractions give you the opportunity to try out your comfort measures– breathing, bath or shower, movement, changing positions, rest, and so on. This can be a time to try out different affirmations and if you have a partner, it can be an opportunity to practice working together and noticing what support feels best from them. 
  4. Utilize the pelvic rock exercises / cat cow yoga pose. Do these for 10 min every hour if not sleeping (hands and knees on the bed). This is a most effective way to turn baby into a good anterior position.
  5. Rest, rest, rest. Sometimes when prodromal contractions begin, a birthing person can get the adrenaline hit of “It’s go time.” Because there is still time, it can be beneficial to attend to your rest, whether this be sleeping or doing something restful like listening to hypnobirthing meditations. Stay mindful of your energy, and don’t push yourself to “get things going” or do vigorous exercise if you’re feeling like you need rest. 
  6. Take a sleep aid. Taking one or two Benadryl, Tylenol PM or Unisom can help you relax and get some sleep. 
  7. Avoid recumbent positions that will encourage a posterior positioning of your baby. Left side lying, sitting on ball, sitting upright are preferred. See Spinning Babies website for more information. 
  8. Wear an abdominal binder. Use a surgical belt or baby wrap to securely wrap your abdomen, holding the uterus back. This binding method will encourage baby to get into a good position. 
  9. Hydrate and nourish yourself. Focus on hydration and be sure to eat some hearty snacks or a nourishing meal.
  10. Consider Chiropractic care. A chiropractor can gently adjust your pelvis and ligaments to encourage baby to be in a good position for birth.
  11. Contact your midwife team. If you have more than 4 hours of irregular contractions, please contact your health care professional the next day for an assessment and plan of care so that the prodromal labor doesn’t continue night after night. Also remember that sometimes prodromal labor will spontaneously turn into real labor once the baby is positioned well. Don’t miss the signs that your body has transitioned into real labor. Talk to your midwife team if you have any questions about your progress. 

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Your team of midwives is here to support you throughout your pregnancy and birth. If you are currently building your birth team, reach out and let us know how we can support you!

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