Tips for Surviving Prodromal Labor

Tips for surviving prdromal labor

During every one of my pregnancies I’ve learned many new words and terms that I didn’t even know existed before we started having children… Words like placenta previa, nuchal cord, VBAC and HBAC (and lots of others).

After having five babies myself and serving as a doula for many others, I’d started to feel that I finally had a pretty good understanding of all of the terms associated with pregnancy and birth. To my surprise, I got to learn and experience yet another new term this time around… prodromal labor.

What is Prodromal Labor?

Prodromal labor is a type of labor that happens prior to the onset of full active labor. It is often considered a type of “false-labor,” but this is a misnomer, because doctors and midwives will explain that the contractions are real but they start and stop. So basically, it is real labor in terms of pain, contractions, and regularity but it comes and goes.

Prodromal labor often starts and stops at the same time each day or at regular intervals, and many moms (even experienced moms) often end up calling their birth team or going to the hospital thinking it is real labor. Prodromal labor can last days, weeks or even a month or more, often starting and stopping at the same time each day (or night).

Prodromal vs. Braxton Hicks

There is often a misconception that prodromal labor is the same as having Braxton Hicks contractions, but there is a definite difference. Most women experience Braxton Hicks contractions, or “practice contractions” at some point during pregnancy. These contractions can be very tight and uncomfortable, but rarely last long periods of time or pick up in intensity.

Additionally, it is often possible to alleviate Braxton Hicks contractions by hydrating, eating or relaxing. These techniques typically do not stop prodromal labor. Prodromal labor can also slowly dilate or efface the cervix, while BH contractions typically do not.

Another difference is that Braxton Hicks contractions are often not regular or intense, while prodromal labor can follow a very regular contraction pattern and vary in intensity.

What Causes Prodromal Labor?

There seem to be several potential causes of prodromal labor, but no official cause or consensus in the medical community. Most sources agree that prodromal labor is the body’s way of preparing for real labor, and some things that may contribute are:

  • The baby’s position in the womb– Many sources think that prodromal labor may be the body’s way of trying to move the baby into the correct position for labor. Basically, the uterus tries to move the baby with contractions for several hours and eventually stops if it doesn’t work, only to start again after resting.  This theory may make sense as moms with a baby in breech position are more likely to experience these early contractions (this was true in my case).
  • Pelvic or uterine abnormality–  It seems that some women are more prone to prodromal labor than others, leading some sources to think that it may relate to an uneven pelvis or uterine abnormality.
  • Emotions or anxiety– Another theory is that prodromal labor is more likely in women who are anxious or concerned about their birth or who are experiencing a lot of stress.
  • More than three pregnancies– There are definitely exceptions, but prodromal labor seems to be more common in moms who have had at least three children, so perhaps there is an element of the way the uterus changes or relaxes after several pregnancies.

My Experience

After having experienced prodromal labor myself over the last month of pregnancy, I can now vouch for the fact that the contractions are very much real and feel like “real” labor. Each woman will experience prodromal labor differently, but most of the time, I’d compare the contractions to those I felt in early labor in previous pregnancies (4-5 cm range).

The physical toll of these early contractions is exhausting, but I found that the real struggle was emotional, mainly due to a lack of sleep. My prodromal labor started about a month before my little one finally arrived and I experienced it almost every night from 1-5 AM. Definitely not the best for sleep!

Though I’d been through labor many times before, I actually called the midwives on one of my first nights of prodromal labor because the contractions were so strong and regular (and proceeded to feel like a first-time mom who didn’t know what labor actually felt like yet!).

This pattern continued for the next several weeks, making me wonder almost every night if labor was starting and pushing me to the edge of my sanity many nights. Here are some of the ways I tried to stay sane.

Tips for Surviving Prodromal Labor

After a month of this very uncomfortable “labor”, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, but I did learn a few coping mechanisms that really seemed to help. If you’re also going through the trial of prodromal labor, hopefully these will be helpful to you too:

Remember, You Aren’t Crazy

This was the hardest part for me. I knew that the contractions felt like real labor contractions, yet they started and stopped and never seemed to turn into active labor. They definitely hurt, were regular, and I could time them.

After weeks of this, I was on the verge of tears every night, doubting my ability to tell if I was in real labor or not and telling my husband “I can’t keep doing this every night… I’m so exhausted!”

It really helped to talk to several other friends who had experienced prodromal labor before and to research more about it. Though this was my first experience with it, this is a very common occurrence that many women experience and it seems to make most of us feel crazy at some point.

Remember that you aren’t crazy, the contractions are real and they really do hurt and that it will (eventually) lead to a baby in arms!

Practice for Labor

The silver lining of prodromal labor, if there is one, is that the contractions are very much real in intensity and timing. Not seeing the silver lining in that? You’ll have plenty of time to practice relaxation and coping mechanisms for when labor finally picks up.

I know, this isn’t much of a comfort in the middle of the night when you’d rather be sleeping, but I figured that if I was going to have the contractions anyway, I might as well use them to practice relaxing.

Breathe, relax, move around, or find whatever relaxation methods work best for you.

Try Some Exercises to Improve Position

Since prodromal labor may be partially caused by baby being in a less-than-optimal position, some exercises and stretches to help improve baby’s position can help calm these early contractions or speed them up.

Check out this list of exercises for early labor from Spinning Babies.

Take Naps and Rest When You Can

This is the toughest part, especially if prodromal labor happens at night, as the physical exhaustion was the hardest part for me. After several weeks, I eventually was so tired that I was able to sleep somewhat during the contractions but didn’t feel rested until after she was born.

Try natural methods to help promote sleep, or talk to your doctor or midwife to see if there is something they can recommend to help you rest.

Take naps during the day if you are able, and rest when you aren’t having contractions.

Check Your Dilation

One of the most frustrating parts is not knowing when labor changes from prodromal to active and many women have more than one false alarm during these extended early contractions. One thing that was helpful to me was learning how to check my own dilation so I would know when labor had started in earnest.

It can be a little tricky to learn to check dilation on yourself, but there are also some alternative methods to help gauge dilation.

Stay Hydrated and Nourished

Women who experience prodromal labor often have shorter active labors, so it is important to eat enough and stay hydrated to be ready for labor when it starts. Exhaustion is often the toughest part of labor, especially after laboring prodromally for so long, and keeping the body hydrated and nourished can help.

The Benefit of Prodromal Labor

Though this “false labor” can seem pointless and exhausting, many women who experience it report having shorter active labors, and this was certainly my experience. My typical labors have been 20+ hours with my shortest being about 15. This labor was 3.5 from “I think this is labor” to “hi Baby!”

Prodromal labor certainly isn’t a guarantee of a short labor but it does seem to help for many women. If you are struggling with prodromal labor, try to focus on the fact that even if you aren’t in active labor yet, the contractions are preparing your body and may make things easier when real labor starts.

Did you experience prodromal labor? What helped you? When did active labor finally start?

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Reader Comments

  1. Oh man, prodromal labor is a beast! I experienced it hardcore in my first two labors, hoping for not so much this go-round! Mine has been pretty intense, but not very productive, due to poor positioning and stress. I am doing spinning babies this time and working hard to create a positive birthing environment.

  2. It was all those dates. 😉 Assuming this means your newest one has arrived. Congrats!

  3. Whoa! YES! This happened to me on my fourth child for close to a month but I chalked it up to anxiety and not being ready emotionally for labor and delivery. Luckily, mine always happened in the evening and not while sleeping. (You poor thing!!) I even went to the hospital thinking it was the “real thing” only to leave 5.5cm dilated and 100% effaced and no contractions. I refused any inventions, so they let me leave. My body gave me about 15min of intense contractions, then near complete rest for and hour. They suddenly started again and time from “hey this is finally labor!” to “hi baby” was maybe 45min! It was an intense :45 though! So glad you put this info out there… And sounds like your new littlest one is here, then?! Congrats!!! 🙂

  4. I did this with my 5 th baby starting at 33 weeks. Freaked me out at first for fear of it being 2 early. I had a home birth midwife and remember after the 3 rd or 4 th phone call telling her I think I’m “going crazy”!!! It feels so much like real labor. I did this every day from around 4 in the afternoon until around midnight. Exhausting!!! They stopped at 38 weeks and I had him 3 days before my due date. What a ride, can definitely relate to ur story. Congrats on your new baby.

  5. This has been my crazy story for now all 3 pregnancies. The 3rd is still growing for another few weeks or so, but instead of false alarms at 8-8.5 months, this one started in my 7th month. Whew! The difference this time is I know to wait and try a warm bath if it is keeping me awake before I panic. So far that warm bath each time has worked wonders and I can fall back off to sleep on those intense nights. And of course, getting off my feet when the days bring intense pressure and contractions. Thank you for sharing your story. Often I do feel a little crazy when trying to explain it to someone else. Thankfully the hubby understands.

  6. I had this with my 2nd son…but mine never stopped. 4 days straight of no sleep. The longest my ‘contractions would be apart would be 15 minutes, but rarely stayed close enough, long enough for them to admit me. Finally night 3 I went to the hospital and wouldn’t leave. I held off on interventions for another 12 hours but at that point I was so mentally and emotionally exhausted I could not go on. It was my due date so my baby was baked and ready. This was my attempt at a VBAC and I was really questioning if it was the right decision after all the time in awful pain and being away from my son for such a long period of time (we sent him to Grandma’s). I took an epidural and they tried pitocin but it kept making me and the baby’s vitals to drop. My water had broke sometime in the last 24 hours (we don’t know if it was when I was laboring in the tub) but we were basically preparing ourselves for a csection. The midwife gave me one last check and I was dilated and ready to push! My son was born 45 minutes later. It wasn’t at all the VBAC I wanted or dreamed of (is labor really any of those things anyways?!), but I don’t blame myself or have any self-doubt about my decision to take any of my interventions. I always tell moms to ‘never say never’. I believed in my hospital staff and my midwives to guide me through the right, necessary decisions and I believe they did. I’m so happy to be able to snuggle my beautiful son, that I hardly remember that week….well, almost hardly.

    Oh, and after feeling sickish on and off for 2 weeks, it was realized that I had endometritis from my long labor pains….I thought I was just run down from my week of no sleep. That was a fun ER visit. Moral of the story: Do your best, but just go with it!

    • I feel like that’s what I’m going through right now. First baby- currently 40weeks and 4 days. I’m having some very real contractions that only last about 30-50sec, every 5-10 min. Sometimes 2-3 min apart. They have been going on for the past 2 1/2 days straight without stopping for more than 15min. But they arent progressing in intensity or doing anything. I’m set to get induce In 2 days anyway, so I just get sent home. I am absolutely miserable though. I just want a break so I can at least take a nap. Getting no sleep or rest at all 🙁

      • That is exactly me right now. I feel no one understands. Best of luck to you. Hope that baby has come for you.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It helps validate what I experienced with my first child nine months ago. Whoa, prodromal labor is no joke, the hardest, most exhausting experience ever. It was so confusing to me that my very hard contractions were not producing anything. Thank God I had a doula helping me through the contractions toward the end. Well, thank you again for ALL of your very helpful posts!

  8. Was very glad when you posted something to Instagram about dealing with your prodormal labor, and even happier to see a post here after you’ve had your little one. I’m 39 weeks now and have been having prodormal labor for months now, but it’s especially picked up lately, in large part due to stress I’m sure. I’m having a very hard time getting family to understand that it’s really going on and I’m not just overreacting to Braxton Hicks, even though this is my second child (and second time with prodormal labor). It’s a comfort to know I’m not the only one. I’m hoping this is at least making more progress as I’ve slowly been dilating and effacing, and even lost my membranes this last week. Hang in their ladies. It can only go on for so long before a little one has to come out!

  9. I’ve had prodromal labor for all five of my pregnancies (in week 36 of #5 right now, and it has already started). I always end up 2cm dilated for several weeks before labor starts, and my labors have all been between 2 and 8 hours. The sign that I am truly in labor and need to think about heading to the hospital or birth center has been spotting or bloody show. I have never had any kind of bleeding during prodromal labor. My water has also never broken until I was deeply into labor, or had a dr break it for me since I was so far into labor and it hadn’t broken.

  10. This is my first baby, so it is useful to hear from you how prodromal labor can feel like real labor…as I definitely feel like these are real contractions, and I know I’m dilating! Yet, the stopping and starting can really make me feel like a crazy person. Flower essences have been super helpful, especially cherry plum (for when your mind is freaking out and feels like its losing control) and golden amaranthus (let go and let God…). Thanks for all these resources…you have no idea how beautiful it is to read about this and know I’m not alone. Sending much love to you and your growing family, and thank you so much for sharing.

  11. Hi! I’m a new reader here, someone shared your dates post with me so I came looking to see if you had updated how your labour went!

    I was in prodromal labour for the 3 days leading up to actually giving birth and that was hell. I can’t imagine going through it for weeks! Mine would start and stop, contractions would be 3 minutes apart and then would spread out to 15 minutes. It was beyond frustrating. My daughter was sunny side up. I ended up with an emergency c-section after about 60 hours of labour (around 12 of “real” labour”). I’m almost 30 weeks pregnant with my second and really hoping to not experience prodromal again. I’m going to start eating dates at 36 weeks 😉

  12. Yes! I am currently experiencing this with my 5th pregnancy, but I also had it with #2 and #4. I have been induced with all of my babies because my placenta wears out, but when I went in to be induced with #2 they told me I was in labor. They actually made me stay on the monitor for 12 hours to give my a “trial of labor” before starting the pitocin. I knew my contractions were regular but they never got stronger. With #4 I had the same, on and off and I was on the NST at perinatology and they told me I was in labor and would probably have the baby over the weekend (it was a friday). So Yes even to doctors on the NST machine this looks like labor, it just doesn’t get stronger and peter’s out. Also even after all that I’ve only been 1cm dialated at the start of induction with all of mine, so they aren’t very effective. The only thing they are good at is getting your hopes up that you will soon meet your little one and for me my hopes of not enduring another induction!

  13. Sigh, I don’t know. The midwives said I had this, but unlike most of your stories, my contractions did not stop — for FIVE days. It was my first birth, but I’m sincerely terrified to have another child if having “false labor” and not sleeping A WINK for FIVE DAYS is totally normal and acceptable.

    I was so physically and emotionally traumatized from it and I’m no sissy.

    Maybe I had something else? Can someone please tell me that what I endured was not normal. I suppose I’m destined to have an only-child if so.

    I just hope that I can somehow avoid this experience next time around. Some how.

    • Hello Katie, you’re the first person I’ve ever found to have gone throught the exact same thing as me.
      5 full days of non stop “REAL” contractions day and night before my daughter was born (which didn’t lead to anything till day 5). I would totally agree with you that it is traumatising and should never be repeated, yet I’m currently pregnant with my second child – let’s call it blind stupidity. This time however I am seriously standing up for myself. I’m explaining to everyone that these contractions are the real deal and they need to induce me in advance so I never have to endure this again.
      Is it prodromal labour? Is it normal? I think there isn’t a word for this (other then hell) and “normal” is an impossible word anyway. It happens, but modern medicine can help you, so let it!

    • I am currently on day 4 of this. I think I got a 40 minute break two days ago, but otherwise it has been constant. It started in the evening so that is 4 nights of no sleep. Thank goodness I have a scheduled c-section tomorrow (baby is breech) because I don’t know how much more of this I could take.

  14. Thank you for this post! I am currently experiencing prodromal labor with my second baby, and I’m only 35 weeks along so it is causing extra anxiety. I had it with my first baby as well, but it didn’t go on as long or start as early. Thanks for reminding me that I’m not crazy! It is so helpful to hear of your experience and read the comments to see how many other women have dealt with it as well.

  15. I’m currently going through preterm prodromal labor. I had been contracting for a whole week every evening, and when I went to see my OB (I’m high risk and no midwife would take me), he decided it best to check for dialation, as I do have a history of preterm labor. I am dialating, effacing, and baby has dropped. OB decided to send me to the hospital to be monitored, and after seeing the contractions on the monitor, he put me on Mag and steroid shots, because I’m only 33 weeks. Quite far from the natural I wanted with this baby, and hard to absorb the change in plan, but I guess things don’t always go as planned! Sometimes we have to make decisions we really don’t want to have to make, far from our natural preferences, but we must decide what we feel is safest for our sweet baby at the time. Now, two days after coming home from the hospital, I am still battling daily prodromal labor, but we are taking it easy and praying for a few more weeks! Though I’m not so sure I can handle too many weeks of daily contractions! Lol I hope labor itself goes more natural than the end of this pregnancy is going!

  16. Hiya – thank you for your story! I had never heard of prodromal labor, and now I have heard of it multiple times since you posted this. I am 20 weeks pregnant so I have been looking at ways to support my belly and prevent diastasis recti (kinesiology tape seems to be a good option). Anyway I found this article on belly binding and they mentioned being able to prevent or decrease prodromal labor if you can give the uterus more support (especially in the 3rd trimester), and it is more common with 3rd or 4th (or in your case, 6th) time moms! Here is the article if you would like to read it: http://midwifeatyourdoorstep.com/articles/optimalfetalpositioning.html

    I hope this might be helpful for somebody ?

  17. My wife is 38 weeks with our 2nd son and this prodramal labor is for the birds! We have had 2 teips to L&D and both false alarms. Contractions wed were 4 mins apart for over 12 hours and then stopped and started again Thurs at 230pm for another 12 hours of 2 mins apart. And of course they stopped!! 2 to 3 cm dilated and 50% thinned out and it hasnt changed in days! Ugh

  18. I experience this with all of my pregnancies. Waiting for my third to pop out. Now that I know what to expect I just wait it out and use the time to practice relaxation. I try to keep my midwife informed as things progress. People ask me how long I labor, and I always tell them about a week. Ha ha! This seems less funny as I have a 4 and 2 year old to chase today and was just up almost all night laboring. Thanks for the article! For me, baby is in a good position currently. This just seems to
    be my body’s pokey way of warming up for the big show. Even when fully dilated and pushing my contractions rarely are very regular.

  19. I want to thank you for this post. I came across your blog looking for more information on eating dates during pregnancy, and stumbled onto this post about prodromal labor. I’m 35 weeks with my 2nd pregnancy and I’ve been having contractions for almost a week now. Everything I’ve heard about Braxton Hicks contractions just didn’t seem to match what I’ve been feeling. I thought I was going crazy! Learning about prodromal labor is easing my anxiety and I can’t wait to talk to my midwife meow about it. Thank you!

  20. I’ve had prodromal labor and early contractions since my first pregnancy. The only thing worse that feeling like you look like a first-time mom who doesn’t know how to identify labor is BEING a first-time mom, and everyone just kind of chuckles and rolls their eyes a bit when you tell them you’re having contractions! I went to L&D 8 times before my first was born, and at least 5-6 of those times would be a new nurse who would say, “Well, let’s get you on the monitor and see if you’re contracting.” She’d come back an hour later, look at the chart, “Oh! You’re definitely contracting!” And I’d be so exasperated because after 4 trips to L&D, you’d think they’d realize I knew what I was talking about! Finally one of the nurse told me I had an “irritable uterus.” “….my uterus is “witchy,” that’s my problem?!” I didn’t learn the term “prodromal labor” until my second pregnancy. Having a better name for it helped, and helped me feel like I was taken more seriously. I also switched to midwife care in my second pregnancy, that made a big difference too!

    I never knew about the physical anomaly possible causing it. I think that might be at least part of what causes it for me, since my uterus is tilted. And I agree about being on your 4+ pregnancy for getting it for the first time: while I’ve had this since my first pregnancy, two of my sister-in-laws didn’t get it til their fourth pregnancies.

    I think the biggest help all these contractions do is help you learn to not be afraid of the contractions, of the pain. Not being afraid, relaxing as much as possible, is one of the most crucial factors of helping L&D go quicker and more smoothly. I tell other women that pain does not have to equal fear. Don’t be afraid. This is the ONE time in your life where the pain is a sign that something GOOD is happening: your body is working to bring your baby into the world! Don’t be afraid of it. I think having so much prodromal labor right from my very first pregnancy is what helped me to really internalize and know that truth.

    I’m currently in my fourth pregnancy. Someone on my facebook friends list shared this article; when I first shared about prodromal labor a few years ago, there was hardly anything online to try and help explain to others what I was experiencing. I’m glad to see it’s getting more traction – thank you for helping to spread awareness.

    I start getting contractions really early in my pregnancies: I’ve started as early as 20 weeks, and the latest they’ve started is 32 weeks. I’ve not delivered sooner than 39 weeks. They’re not always as timeable as a “bout” of prodromal labor every day, sometimes they’re just “irritable” contractions (I can tell the difference now). I’m at about 11 weeks of it right now in this fourth pregnancy. I did the math this morning: if you add up all my pregnancies together, including this one, I’ve done 47 weeks of contractions in my lifetime!

  21. I just had my first baby two weeks ago. She had been in the ‘perfect position’ for 6 weeks. I gave birth to her naturally without a single vaginal exam 46 hours after my water broke. ***I never went into ‘active labor’*** but very much had a day and a half of labor. After 45.5 hours of this, my body spontaneously began pushing her out and my midwife barely made it to our house in time! She came out at the next contraction ( which were still 10 minutes apart) easy peasy. At the time it was terrifying but hindsight my body was working perfectly; I worked hard through my contractions ( lunges, stairs, walking through them) and then took breaks of trying to nap through them. It ebbed and flowed until it was time without me knowing what was ‘wrong’. Just blind faith; will meeting surrender. My midwifes did the Rebozo Sifting technique at around 9pm and she was born at 3am; we speculate that although she was fully engaged, she had her hand in her mouth or something and was a bit occlusal. In any case I’m so glad I learned that anything is possible in labor even giving birth in ‘false labor’ at the behest of my body!!

  22. I dealt with optimal labor for a couple of weeks. I ended up being induced during one of my episodes but never dilated beyond 1.5cm. They found out later that baby’s head was wedged into the right side of my pelvis and he could never have engaged. Despite the hard recovery, I’m so glad I opted for c secrion instead of going to pitocin after the cytotec didn’t work. He had neck soreness and stiffness from the contractions.

  23. This is my first pregnancy and I am totally going through prodromal Labour. I am 39+4weeks and the last three nights I have had intense contractions every 10-15mins that last up to one minute each between 10pm-3am. It is unbelievable. Very painful but then I get about six hours of solid sleep and feel almost normal during the day again. It’s 630pm now and I feel I only have a few short hours before it happens for the night again.

    • Al the ‘work’ your body does now is ‘work’ you don’t have to do later!! Sounds like as annoying as it is right now, you’ve got a nice rhythm that let’s you rest in between!! Sending you good vibes for a beautiful and empowering birth process ???

  24. Ah yes. I had a 6 day prodromal labor with my first. I was really well educated about birth (I thought) and I had no idea that prodromal labor could feel like it did. I did not get the breaks reported by most women. The longest time between contractions was in the morning between 6am and 10am they would be about 13 minutes apart…that was it. That was my break. After 10am they went back to 5 to 7 minutes apart and as the night progressed, got closer together. All night they would be 1-3 minutes apart. Always irregular, but never relenting. They were “real” contractions” the kind you cannot talk through and make you stomp your foot and make horsey noises. I was trying for a home birth, but after 4 nights of not sleeping at all, I started to hallucinate. The best part of prodromal labor, (if there is a best) is the length of time you have to accept it and develop your gumption. At some point in the trippy state I was in, I accepted that I would be in labor “for the rest of my life” and that that was ok. Weird, I know. However, I did not have the trauma that many women have when they rush to a hospital after 2 days of this only to start the pitocin and the emergency like procedures. I was fine, baby was fine, so by the time I transferred, it was due to exhaustion and completely my, empowered choice. It turned out to be a good choice, as they put me on very very light pit at my request and gave me a light “walking” epidural. I was able to sleep for the first time that week. Within 4 hours of sleep, I dialated to 10cm, and pushed the baby out in 30 minutes. I had, through the whole prodromal labor, tried to change babies position, but the only thing that actually did it was relaxing fully, and medicated sleep was the thing I needed. I am very glad I did not go in earlier, as I may very well have been C-section if I had. I am also proud of myself and empowered by this birth, and not feeling like a failure for transferring after giving it my all. I don’t consider it “false” labor at all. In fact, when people ask, I tell them I was in labor for 6 days. Because, Gosh darn it, it was REAL labor! I did not get breaks, so I get to claim it! Good luck to you if you are experiencing this right now and looking for answers. I can only say to hold on, get some perspective, make sure you and baby are OK. Hold on as long as you can and honor yourself when you need some help or rest. My new midwife for this baby (due in a few weeks) said benedryl can be helpful to get some rest. I wish I had known that as I may have been able to have the baby at home, had I slept.

  25. Thank you SO much for this article!!!!! Yes yes and yes and yes.