Tips for Surviving Prodromal Labor

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Wellness Mama » Blog » Motherhood » Tips for Surviving Prodromal 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 several 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 firsthand… 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. Many moms (even experienced moms) often end up calling their birth team or going to the hospital thinking it is real labor. It 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. Perhaps there is an element of the way the uterus changes or relaxes after several pregnancies.

My Experience

After having experienced prodromal labor myself, I can 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.

Take a Warm Bath

Try adding a little diluted lavender or chamomile essential oil to a bath and take a relaxing soak. This can soothe the body and mind (not to mention pass the time!).

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. Keeping the body hydrated and nourished can help. I make my own electrolyte drink or use this favorite brand that comes in convenient packets for portability (they also taste the best of any I’ve tried).

Check With Your Doctor (or Midwife)!

I know I felt embarrassed to keep checking in with my midwife (especially since it seems like I should have the whole process down by now!) but truly, that’s what they are there for! Every pregnancy is different and it can be very reassuring to make your concerns known and get advice.

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. The labor with prodromal contractions was 3.5 hours 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.

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Anna Cabeca, a gynecologist and obstetrician and a menopause and sexual health expert. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

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

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


62 responses to “Tips for Surviving Prodromal Labor”

  1. Ashley Avatar

    Currently going through my 2nd week of prodromal labor and it is frustrating. If I didn’t have it with my third I would be so confused and disappointed at this point. I’m still a little over 3 weeks from my guess date so I am just trying not to go crazy with 3 under 5 to look after while my body “prepares” for something I already feel it is sufficient in. People have offered help yet I’m waiting until it gets to the point where I really can’t handle it all anymore before accepting any because I am still so far out!!! I get so frustrated when people say, “Oh so you’re just having braxton-hicks.” I’m like, “No Patricia, I guarantee that you’d be in the hospital right now if this was happening to you.” It’s NOT the same as Braxton Hicks yet I so badly wish it were. All 3 of my births have been without pain meds so I am VERY aware of what REAL labor feels like and this definitely plays between early labor and mid active labor. Knowing how to check my cervix has definitely helped SOOOO much to make sure I’m not just going in all the time just to be sent home. It really is essential to know how if you are going through this or you’re going to waste A LOT of gas and time.

  2. Sally Avatar

    Thanks for the article – the first one I have read on prodromal labour. I had prodromal labour with 2 and 3 of 4 of my children, the 2nd starting 6 weeks before. It was super regular, started every evening and petered out around 2 am. It was so stressful because I was working up until delivery, because I had no maternity leave and very few vacation days. Eventually, once he was only 10 days before DD, I agreed to induce because I just couldn’t take the anxiety over it anymore.

    Now my youngest is 11. I wish I could do all these pregnancies and deliveries again, knowing what I know now and with the vast increase of information available to new moms on the web. New moms – consider yourself privileged and lucky you can learn from others in this way!

  3. Beth Avatar

    I’m still feeling crazy about 5 weeks of prodromal labor with each of my births. He’s 2.5 years and she’s 6 months. With him I only dilated 1/2 a centimeter a week, even though I never went more than 2 hours without a contraction and he was in the right position. I went in to the hospital 4 times with the contractions 4 minutes apart for over an hour, and they got further apart while I was there. Unfortunately, it completely stopped once my water broke at 41 weeks 5 days, and 16 hours later I had to be induced. I asked for the epidural and after 12 hours of actual labor the monitor stopped detecting a heartbeat. They rushed me to the OR, found that the epidural wasn’t working, so I got put fully out and he was born blue, not breathing and barely a heartbeat. But half an hour later, by the time my husband met him, he was pink, active, and peeing on the neonatologist. By the time I was awake, he was as in the attached Children’s Hospital on a cooling blanket to protect him from brain damage from the oxygen deprivation. I didn’t get to hold him until he was 3.5 days old. He’s fine now. Probably too strong and too smart.
    Prodromal labor started with her at 31 weeks, but it did stop for several hours at a time. I was over 2cm at 33 weeks and it wasn’t slowing down on its own so I was admitted for 3 days. At 36 weeks 3 days, the 4th time I went in with contractions 4 minutes apart, I went from 3.5 to 4cm in an hour. I said I couldn’t risk what happened to him, so we did a repeat cesarean. I got to be awake and it was lovely. She was over 6 lbs and 18 inches. She has already gained 11 lbs in 6 months. I got my tubes removed during the surgery, because I am not going through that again.

  4. Tara Avatar

    This has been the most helpful post I have read thus far! I’ve been so frustrated and overwhelmed not knowing what in the world was going on. With my first I was induced and never experienced the natural progression of labor. When I was contracting more than a minute with 3-5 minutes in between I thought that was active labor. When I went in I was contracting regularly but not dilating. I told my job I was going into labor and everything because I thought this was it. I was sent home and continued with this for 3 days. Now I am only having symptoms at night and in the morning. It’s getting even more frustrating because people ask me everyday if I’m in labor which is just a reminder that I’m not. The lack of sleep is making it very challenging to deal with emotions so I find myself crying and feeling overwhelmed for almost no reason. It’s just good to know I’m not crazy and this is a part of the process.

  5. Margaret Ogma Avatar
    Margaret Ogma

    Some days and nights would be easier to tell my self all the positive things that this kind of labor was. But mostly the mental and physical exhaustion was the worst. And people who had not had babies or who had but never even gone late trying to tell me that Braxton Hicks could be different for everyone…….=_= no this isn’t my first rodeo this is freaking labor! It’s probably wishful thinking that this baby (#4) won’t give me predomal labor 2 and 3 did for a.month. on the plus side they were SUPER fast.

  6. Brittany Jones Avatar
    Brittany Jones

    I’m 32 weeks on Wednesday and started prodromel labor a few days ago. I first confused it for preterm labor since I am fighting a kidney infection and had pre term labor with my last pregnancy. But I only lasts from 730ish pm to when I fall asleep. I’m worried because with my last 2 pregnancies once I was 4cm they were out in under 30 minutes and I live 45 minutes away from the nearest hospital, knowing this can cause dilation is scary for me being only 32 weeks :/

  7. TJ Avatar

    Wow. Yes. Very hard. I had prodromal labor starting around 27 weeks. Went full bed rest. Over the weeks they subsided with meds. When I went off the meds they picked back up. Every evening from around 6 to 8 I would get intense, regular contractions very close together. I was admitted 3 times sure they were real. This was my second HG pregnancy and the first was a nightmare labor that ended with my son in the nicu. Saying I was terrified of this second labor was an understatement. Then to have to go through it every night for weeks?! Lol, awful. The 3 times I was admitted I left 1 cm, 2 cm, and 5 cm. I was at 5cm for over a week. My doctor never called it prodromal labor. He was as convinced as I that I would not make it in to the hospital when it was time but I was too early to induce. I was a wreck not knowing how I would know. And then I did. Easiest delivery ever. My advice is this. If you experience contractions regularly, when you break the cycle it might be time. I also did get the overwhelming sense of urgency and ramping up feel. Like a building to climax feeling that I just didn’t quite get with the other contractions.

  8. Aimee Avatar

    Thanks so much for this post! I was feeling so discouraged today, just doing everything I can to move things along and Nothing is working!! This is baby #4 and I’m at 38 weeks now. I’ve been dilated to a 4 & 60% since 34 weeks and dealing with this consistently since week 24. Been to l&d 2 times and the first time the Dr and Nurses were sure we were having a baby. They admitted us and I had hard contractions for like 12 hours then nothing. So it is very true that not all dr.s realize what is happening.
    Today got really hard and it just feels like too much and I’m just so so so done right now. The one thing I do feel grateful for is that my hard contractions usually happen daily from mid morning to early evening and not usually during the night. My dr. says she will induce at 39 weeks but I was so hoping to have this one naturally because #3 was natural and has been the easiest of all my deliveries, we were 3 hours from I think I’m in labor to Hi baby…Anyway, not trying to complain because truthfully I have a ton to be thankful for, both the baby and I are super healthy! So, thanks for helping me remember that I’m not crazy and what I’m experiencing is 100% real! It was a life saver tonight! Prayers much appreciated but thankful there is an end in sight!

  9. Erica Avatar

    I am pregnant with didi twins and have had issues with an “irritable uterus” since just about the beginning of the pregnancy, probably due to how quickly it had to expand due to having twins. BH contractions started at about 16 weeks. At 28 weeks I went to the hospital because my abdomen was rock hard for about 2 days straight. However, I had not progressed so I was sent home. At 32 weeks, I was checked and was already 2 cm dilated, but I wasn’t having anything different from my irritable uterus symptoms. I was kept for another day and given fluids, steroid shots, and procardia to help stop contractions. I was put on bed rest. At 34 weeks, I started having contractions that were very far apart, but were definitely different from BH. I felt lots of pressure and minor pains in my pelvis and back. I was also getting upset stomach and nausea with the contractions. After having this for 3 days, everything just about stopped. I’ve had a few regular BHs, but nothing like I had this weekend. Tomorrow I will be 34+5 and have a doctors appointment so I will see how things have changed. I am not surprised about dilating early. With my son, by the time I went into actual labor at 38+5, I was already 5 cm dilated!

    1. Erica Avatar

      So at my doctors appointment, my said that my cervix did not progress any further. I couldn’t believe it! So here I am at 35+3. Over the weekend I have a few false alarms. At one point, contractions were every 5 minutes for an hour and we were about to head out the door when they stopped. Later on, same thing…8 minutes apart for almost an hour and then stopped. Taking a shower seems to be the test as I did this right before leaving. So I think if it happens again, I will take a shower to see if they continue after that…

  10. Rae Avatar

    Thank you so much for this post. I’m on day 5 – they have been letting up enough to let me sleep with Gravol, but otherwise, it’s all day, every day, 2-3 minutes apart mostly. I thought I was losing my mind.

  11. Kirsten Avatar

    I had this! For about 4/5 weeks before my daughter was born and because if it we were sure she would come early. Nope exactly a week late. I didn’t have any false alarms……I knew it was real when they didn’t stop for the entire night. Mine typically went from 4-9pm nightly ?

  12. Afra Said Avatar
    Afra Said

    Thank you for this article. It was so helpful as I have never experienced this type of labor before and having had this now for 4-5 days now and being 41+2 I’m kinda going crazy. Especially because my doc wants to put a foley bulb in tomorrow. And induce me on Tuesday. So I’m more convinced now that my body is not ready so I probably shouldn’t go to the induction. Let’s hope it works!

  13. Suzie Avatar

    I found this post after being up all night last night, not for the first night either. The contractions started at 10pm last night and went on till about 2-3 am, I started to get really excited and nervous first as I’m 41 weeks today and legitimately fed up of being pregnant. Somehow I knew though they weren’t real contractions, they were just like really strong Braxton hicks that took my breath away and gave me a little bit of period type like pain but they weren’t like the ones I had when I went into labour first and last time 11 years ago. I’m so glad you’re telling me I’m not crazy… I kept thinking it funnily in between each contraction, especially because I have terrible anxiety the best of times. Especially since I keep having these symptoms now nearly every night and at points I was really doubting my sanity. Being overdue and baby not being engaged in my pelvis adds to my worries, and I haven’t seen a doctor at all to talk about my these as I’m under midwife led care. My biggest worry is when I finally do go into labour I’m not gonna be able to tell it’s the real thing after all this! I’m so glad I’ve found this post though, it’s helped me a lot and I can’t tell you how relieved I am to realise that what I’m experiencing is actually real and not my over anxious mind playing tricks on me!

  14. Sarah Avatar

    The prodromal labour is driving me batty. I have also had it for a month now. I had one day where we went to our midwife because they had progressed to 5 minutes apart. I felt so silly. This is my third child and first time it happening. It comes almost every night. Tonight has been especially tedious as it hasn’t gone away. I am 39.5 weeks. I keep hoping this will progress. I wonder if it is triggered by stress? I just found out my grandpa is dying tonight. I won’t be able to go to his funeral. And my family is very stressed. I’ve been hydrating and bouncing on the ball and doing other spinning babies postional excercises. Reading a lot of scripture. Watching call the midwife shows. Anything to keep my mind off these contractions. Anyway. Thanks so much for your encouragement. It’s nice to know I am not crazy.

  15. Ashley Avatar

    I had no idea this is what I experienced during my second pregnancy. I thought I was crazy. Everyone told me it was just Braxton Hicks but how could it be? Mine started every morning for 3 weeks around 9 am, slowly through the day got closer and stronger and even painful. Until 10:30 every night when they would just stop. I knew it was real labor when they started at 4 in the morning. On the upside I was fully effaced at my doctors appointment the day before I went into labor.

  16. Andrea Avatar

    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.

  17. Lena Avatar

    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.

    1. Désirée Lyón Avatar
      Désirée Lyón

      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 ???

  18. Stacy Denise Baker Avatar
    Stacy Denise Baker

    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.

  19. Désirée Lyón Avatar
    Désirée Lyón

    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!!

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