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. Alyssa Avatar

    I’ve been dealing with prodromal labor since 34 weeks. I’m exhausted!!! My contractions come every 3 minutes for about 36 hours at a time before I’ll get a days break. They’re strong and feel equivalent to my 4-5 cm contractions. My doctors keep telling me to come in when I’m In pain, but I’m generally not in pain until 7 cm and I go from 7-10 in 20 minutes and I’m an hour from the hospital! I’m frustrated!! We have an induction date set as I am high risk, but just getting to that date feels agonizing! 4th pregnancy and chasing 3 boys 5 and under! Ugh, praying for some relief!

  2. Rebecca Avatar

    I am 37 weeks into my first pregnancy and have been feeling what I thought was “real” contractions for several weeks. My first thought was that I was just being a “wimp” when it came to pain. However, two weeks ago, they became more consistent, and the surges would last for several hours. My midwife has told me that they were not Braxton Hicks and that I was experiencing true contractions. I have been quite frustrated, thinking that I will finally be able to meet my little one and it turning out to be a false alarm. Reading this article has definitely helped me realize that I am not the only one. I am so glad that I have a loving husband to support me through all of this as well.

  3. Lexi Avatar

    I’m on day number three with it constant all day and night. Yes, during the day too. Any sudden movement even up to me shifting slightly in my chair can trigger extremely painful contractions. I am shaking and terrified for the next contraction because it hurts so much and it’s all for no reason. I gave birth to twins prior, so according to the internet I shouldn’t have prodromal labor for over 72 hours but here I am so I doubt I’ll be one of the lucky ones to also have a short labor! This is unbearable and I am sick of feeling this way constantly for 72 hours. I feel another one coming on so I have to stop typing.

  4. Cat Avatar

    Ah, this is making sense to me. I’m currently 38+5 weeks pregnant with baby #3. Have been having contractions that feel like early labour in the evening til late at night a few days a week since 35 weeks. Some of these nights begin with me losing pieces of mucus plug (with both my previous pregnancies this happened the night before going into labour so it’s made me think it was all about to happen more than once!) The contractions keep me up for a few hours then fizzle out, and I kept thinking this labour must be getting fairly close. Now I see I can’t tell how long I’ve got left I’m getting in all the naps I can! Didn’t even realise prodromal labour was a thing – my other 2 were born at 37 & 40 weeks, so I’m hoping it’s not too much longer to wait!

  5. Daysi Thrasher Avatar
    Daysi Thrasher

    I thought I was going crazy. This is my third baby and I’ve never experienced anything like this before. With my other two, once I had pain that was it contractions became consistent. With this third pregnancy. It’s been on and off for these contractions, at one point they were 2-3minutes apart. The last two nights have been rough, I haven’t slept through the night because of the painful contractions. I’ve been showing “bloody show” but still contractions are not regular. I’m really hoping baby decides to make his grand debut in the next day or two because I am miserable!!! My eyes are soooo tired. This article was very helpful. Thank you so much. Wishing everyone a safe delivery.

  6. Latasha Hall Avatar
    Latasha Hall

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience and information. I am currently experiencing this every night and was beginning to think I was crazy. I even went to the OB emergency only to have several doctors tell me it must be my imagination and I was just dehydrated. I felt so stupid especially since I already have four children. Very frustrating to find out these are real contractions and the ones who should be able to help me didn’t even properly diagnose me.

  7. Maggie Laverman Avatar
    Maggie Laverman

    I cannot thank you enough for posting this article. I have it bookmarked and return to it often during these last days of pregnancy. I have also sent it off to many family and friends to help them understand what I experience.
    I have “suffered” through prodromal labor for 3 pregnancies now, my first pregnancy somehow missing the boat. I am working on not only accepting that this is just how my body was designed, but to also find gratefulness in how “easy” of labors I have. Who else gets to dilate slowly up with virtually no real pain? Who else gets to rest between spells? For me, I may get checked during a later spell and be surprised to hear from the midwife I am an 8 or even a 10! We are quite sure it’s a strong bag of waters that “holds me back”, but I am learning not to see it negatively. That water pads my contractions and keeps them around the 4-5 mark on the pain scale until it’s time to push! And like with the last 2 babies, I literally got to nap before waking and deciding it was baby time. Cheers to you all, and here is to finding that silver lining!

  8. Kara Morin Avatar
    Kara Morin

    This has been the most relieving post and comments I have read during my entire first pregnancy. I am 38 weeks and been having prodromal labor for about 10 days. Last night was the worst so far, the contractions were every 3-10 minutes for several hours, but they didn’t increase in intensity and eventually went to every 20-30 minutes then none at all. Then I wake up and have lots of cramping and back pain. I am frustrated because I am missing work due to it, but it’s not actual labor yet. I wish there was an answer of how long this typically lasts for women.

    As for the women above who say this could be due to an issue with their uterus, I have several, large fibroids and my midwife said that could be the cause of this.

  9. Jaclyn King Avatar
    Jaclyn King

    So thankful to have come across this article. I’m 40+4 with my first baby and have been experiencing this for the past 2 days. No one I have talked to seems to know what I am experiencing, and it has made me afraid I am overreacting to what I am feeling, but this assured me I am not. I have been unable to sleep the past two nights due to the pain and frequency of the contractions keeping me awake. My mom has never experienced this, so she was pushing me to go to the hospital, but my gut was telling me it wasn’t time yet. I checked my cervix to see if I was crazy and it hasn’t progressed, but the contractions have felt in every way what I would imagine real labor contractions to feel like. It has been completely different than the Braxton Hicks contractions I’ve been experiencing my entire 3rd trimester. So thankful to know I’m not crazy, or just a big baby. This hurts.

  10. Jess Avatar

    I actually just had my baby 2 days ago, but beforehand I had prodromal labor (this article was actually exactly what I needed to read, encouraging and informative!). Here is a story that shows you WILL have that baby, for those moms that felt as hopeless as I did:
    I had my membranes stripped Thursday around noon, that evening baby dropped and I had the bloody show or maybe just bleeding from the sweep. I woke up at 2am with moderate contractions that were 6 minutes apart and thought “This is it!” But at 5 30 when I laid in bed to suffer there, they disappeared! Next day continued with contractions and more blood, some mucous that was now obvious. Just a handful of contractions throughout the night. Saturday night at 11pm I had contractions hit again but twice as intense, went to the ER because they were 6.5 minutes apart and moved to 5.5 minutes apart, and 1 minute long lasting for 4 hours, but they hurt so much I though it was it! Turned out I was only 3-3.5 cm dilated- exactly what I was when I got my membranes stripped Thursday! To make matters worse, the contractions petered out as I was at the hospital. I realized that movement definitely brings them on. Went home defeated and didn’t fall asleep til 8am because they were still every 15 min and hurt too bad to sleep. They kept waking me up throughout the night, so I tried my hardest to stay on the couch and not move once I woke up at 11 30am. They continued like this until 4 30 or so when they got even worse! I thought it was because my belly was sore, but they brought me to tears a couple times and I really thought I was gonna die if I didn’t get pain meds/baby out that night. But I didn’t think I could be in labor after all the stuff I’d been through!
    My contractions were 5 minutes apart, about 1 minute long (exactly like prodromal) for a few hours when we called the midwife. At first she was skeptical and told us that she “can’t tell us not to go in” but I had a contraction at just the right time, which she heard and said she’d meet us at the hospital. Admitted at 8 30pm, 5cm dilated when checked, started pushing at 11 45 and baby was here at 12 20am.
    So long story short, it took 3 days from the start of contractions to have baby. Hopefully this will give someone some hope when there seems to be no end in sight!

  11. Jen Avatar

    Prodromal labor is hell!! Doesnt help the moms in the group have called me selfish for wanting induced at 36 weeks! In 38 now and my OB says no still!! I’m so tired of this! This is baby #3 and my last and I love him but this false labor is so horrible!
    To any other mom, you are NOT selfish for wanting to be induced if you have this condition!!

  12. Kayla Avatar

    This helped me so much!! I’m currently due today with my 4th, however this whole week I have been having contractions that come and go but do get very intense. Not last night but the night before I was up until 4 am with intense contractions that were 10-12 minutes apart and then all of a sudden they stopped for 2 hours. I had these all day yesterday and then got to be 5 minutes apart for almost 2 hours. We live an hour from the hospital so the nurse thought I should be checked and I was only 2 cm and not fully effaced. So frustrating!! Last night I slept the entire night which was rare but I woke up so angry, sad and frustrated that I hadn’t gone into labor. I googled “emotions of false labor” and found your article. Now I dont feel so embarrassed about going to the hospital yesterday! Thank you so much as I feeling like I should know better after 4!

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