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Prodromal Labor

What is prodromal labor?

Prodromal labor is labor that starts and stops before fully active labor begins. It’s often called “false labor,” but this is a poor description. Medical professionals recognize that the contractions are real, but they come and go and labor may not progress.

So, prodromal labor is real in terms of contraction pain and regularity. What makes these contractions different from contractions seen in active labor is that they start and stop.

Prodromal labor contractions will often come and go at the same time each day or at regular intervals. Many mothers, even experienced ones, end up calling their birth team or going to the hospital, thinking labor has begun.

Prodromal labor is really common and can start days, weeks, or even a month or more before active labor begins. Your health care provider will want you to deliver as close to 40 weeks (your due date) as possible. Prodromal labor isn’t an indication for induction or cesarean delivery.

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Braxton-Hicks

Prodromal labor vs. Braxton-Hicks

Prodromal labor is often mistaken for Braxton-Hicks contractions, but they’re not the same thing. The majority of pregnant women will experience this type of contraction at some stage during their pregnancy. Braxton-Hicks are essentially practice contractions. They’re your body’s way of preparing for labor.

Braxton-Hicks contractions can cause a very tight, uncomfortable sensation, but they’re not typically regular or intense. They rarely last a long time or grow in intensity. Prodromal labor can follow a very regular pattern. The contractions can vary and grow in intensity.

It’s sometimes possible to ease Braxton-Hicks contractions by drinking water, eating, or relaxing. These activities won’t help ease prodromal labor contractions. Your cervix can also slowly dilate or efface during prodromal labor. This doesn’t usually happen with Braxton-Hicks contractions.

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Active labor

Prodromal labor vs. active labor

Prodromal labor contractions usually occur less than every five minutes and may stop for long periods. Once active labor begins, your contractions will become more and more frequent and will no longer start and stop.

The closer together your contractions are, the closer you are to meeting your baby. Real labor contractions get longer, stronger, and closer together and progress to delivery without stopping or slowing. Once labor is progressing well (usually once the mother is over 4 centimeters dilated), the labor won’t stop.

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Causes

What causes prodromal labor?

There are several theories as to what causes prodromal labor, but the medical community hasn’t identified a specific cause. Most researchers seem to agree that prodromal labor is the body’s way of preparing for active labor. There are several potential contributing factors:

  • The position of your baby: You may be more likely to experience prodromal labor if your baby is in breech position. The theory is that the uterus attempts to move the baby with contractions for a period of time and then stops if it doesn’t work.
  • Physical factor: An uneven pelvis or uterine abnormality may lead to these contractions.
  • Feeling anxious or afraid: Apprehensive emotions either about your pregnancy or other things in your life may cause prodromal labor.
  • History of previous pregnancies: This may be related to the way the uterus changes or relaxes after multiple pregnancies.

Prodromal labor isn’t usually a cause for concern and doesn’t mean that your baby is in distress. But if you do have concerns, you should always contact your healthcare provider.

Does prodromal labor mean active labor is near?

Prodromal labor can occur any time within the last month of your pregnancy. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean active labor is going to happen in the next day or even week. Labor and birth are unpredictable, so there’s really no good way to predict exactly when it will begin. Here are some common telltale signs that may signal that baby will soon be on the way.

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Seek help

Seeking help

Whether or not you need to contact your doctor or midwife will depend on your individual situation. In general, if your pregnancy is low risk, you likely won’t need to contact your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing prodromal labor.

However, it may be difficult to tell if your contractions are a sign of active labor or prodromal labor. You should always reach out to your healthcare providers if you have concerns and to rule out other problems.

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Management

What you can do to manage this condition

If you are close to your due date, try to stay active during contractions. This could include:

  • staying upright
  • walking around
  • using a birthing ball
  • dancing

Rest during periods where contractions have ceased. Remember to stay hydrated and nourished to keep your energy levels up. Use this time to practice your coping mechanisms for getting through each contraction. Breathing and relaxation techniques can be really useful. 

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