What Is Prodromal Labor?

Prodromal Labor is Labor that starts and ends before active Labor. It is sometimes referred to as “false labor,” but this is the wrong term. Medical specialists understand that the contractions are genuine.

However, they come and go, and Labor does not advance. So, in terms of contraction pain and regularity, prodromal Labor is actual. What separates such contractions from contractions seen in active Labor is that they begin and stop.

Per day or at daily intervals, prodromal Labor contractions will always come and go at the same time. Many mothers end up calling their birth team or rushing to the hospital, including seasoned ones, assuming Labor has started.

Prodromal Labor is really prevalent and can begin days, weeks, or even a month or more before the start of active Labor. You would want to send as close to 40 weeks (your due date) as possible to your health care provider.

Prodromal Labor is not a sign of delivery by induction or cesarean.

Table of Contents

What It Is?

While prodromal Labor is not a term used in most medical literature, it is used by many doctors and midwives to define contractions of “practice” (also called “false Labor”) that occur before active Labor.

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However, in all births, prodromal Labor is not observed. The word is often used to separate them, which are less severe and consistent, from Braxton Hicks contractions.

Only successful Labor contractions can contribute to real Labor, but both of these precursors to the main event are believed to help prepare the body for Labor and delivery.

In fact, from the Greek “precursor,” the word “prodromal” is derived, and that’s an excellent way to explain what it is. While it has many of the hallmark elements of Labor (painful contractions that occur at prolonged intervals), prodromal Labor is not sufficient enough to bring about the required cervical changes for active Labor.

In fact, for several weeks or even months before you actually give birth, prodromal Labor can come and go, which is part of why it is such an irritating experience for many pregnant women.

The other part of prodromal Labor that bothers many people, particularly because prodromal Labor shares so many symptoms of real Labor, can be downright confusing.

How to Tell If It’s Prodromal Labor

Many moms just want to know how to say whether they are in “false” prodromal Labor or “real” Labor. In certain cases, the best way to tell you is to contact your healthcare provider and discuss your symptoms, especially if this is your first instance of prodromal Labor.

Your healthcare professional may make you come into the office to conduct an examination to see whether your cervix has dilated or not, based on their judgment and whether your body is preparing for birth in some other significant way.

However, if any of the conditions below are true, you are likely to undergo prodromal Labor rather than active Labor:

  • You’re in the third trimester of your pregnancy, generally near the end.
  • You are feeling strong and potentially painful contractions.
  • Your contractions are normal but not getting closer together (usually about 5-10 minutes apart).
  • “Although they may have some regularity in your contractions, they also stop and start, do not become more intense, and do not “take away your breath.
  • Some imminent Labor symptoms, such as ruptured water, loss of the mucus plug, or bleeding, are not present (the “bloody show” of active Labor).
  • They emerge at the very end of their pregnancies for most women who experience prodromal contractions. 

For most women, Prodromal Labor emerges at the end of their pregnancies for most women who experience prodromal contractions. However, some women experience it starting at the end of their second trimester or the start of their third trimester.

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In first pregnancies, it is most common and doesn’t usually repeat in subsequent pregnancies.

Prodromal Labor vs. Braxton Hicks Contractions

For Braxton-Hicks contractions, prodromal Labor is often misunderstood, but they’re not the same thing. At some point during their pregnancy, the majority of pregnant women will experience this form of contraction. Braxton-Hicks are simply contractions for exercise. They’re a way for your body to prepare for Labor.

Braxton-Hicks contractions can create a very tight, uncomfortable feeling, but usually, they are not frequent or severe. They rarely last or increase in strength for a long time. A very typical pattern may follow prodromal Labor. In strength, the contractions will differ and expand.

By drinking water, feeding, or relaxing, it is also possible to relieve Braxton-Hicks contractions. Such practices are not going to help reduce prodromal contractions of Labor. During prodromal Labor, the cervix can also slowly dilate or vanish. Usually, with Braxton-Hicks contractions, this does not happen.

There are also very common Braxton Hicks contractions, which are encountered at some stage by almost all pregnant women. But in general, Braxton Hicks contractions occur earlier in pregnancy. Although unpleasant, they do not feel as close to real contractions as prodromal Labor contractions do (as in genuinely painful).

Braxton Hicks Contractions

The characteristics of Braxton Hicks contractions are as follows:

  • They usually start around the fourth month of pregnancy.
  • Rather than the extreme squeezing or cramping pain of prodromal or active Labor, they feel like a contraction of your abdomen or uterus.
  • They are often painful, but rather than actually painful, and they are generally more like a strong feeling of discomfort.
  • Generally, they do not have a daily pattern or get closer together.
  • Generally, over time, they do not get more intense.
  • They sometimes come in when you feel tired, dehydrated, or over-extended.
  • Your Braxton Hicks contractions are typically minimized by lying on your side, drinking water, and relaxing.

Prodromal Labor vs. Active Labor

Prodromal Labor vs. Active Labor

In general, prodromal Labor contractions occur less than every five minutes and can stop for long periods of time. Your contractions will become more and more regular once active Labor starts and will no longer start and stop.

The closer your contractions are to each other, the closer you are to your infant. Without stopping or slowing, actual Labor contractions get longer, deeper, and closer together and move towards delivery. Once Labor progresses well (usually once the mother is dilated by more than 4 centimetres), the Labor will not end.

Prodromal Labor is similar to real Labor because:

  • Prodromal Labor contractions may be painful or intense.
  • Prodromal Labor contractions may be as close as 5 minutes apart.
  • Prodromal Labor contractions may continue on and off regularly for an hour or longer.

Does prodromal Labor mean active Labor is near?

Prodromal Labor may occur during the last month of your pregnancy at any time. However, in the next day or even week, it does not necessarily mean active Labor is going to happen.

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Labor and childbirth are unpredictable, so there’s just no clear way to predict when it will start. Here are some typical tell-tale signs that might mean that there will be a baby on the way soon and that you are inactive Labor:

Diarrhoea

At any time during your pregnancy, you might experience diarrhea. Diarrhea can result in dietary changes, hormonal variances, or your prenatal vitamin. However, if you are approaching your due date, looser stools than normal may be a warning that Labor is just around the corner.

Keep yourself hydrated and look out for other early signs of Labor if your symptoms are mild. If you have a fever, serious stomach pain, or diarrhea that lasts for more than one to two days, call your doctor.

Lightening

You may have overheard women complaining about losing their infants. The technique that they mention is called lightening. In order to prepare for birth, lightning is when your baby drops down into your pelvis. You will definitely feel more pressure on your bladder and cervix after the baby has passed into the pelvis and have an urge to urinate more frequently.

Ripened cervix

By checking your cervix, your doctor can be able to give you a fair idea of how things are going along. Usually, this exam is not performed until very late in your pregnancy.

You may get your cervix dilated (opened) and even erased (thinned and stretched). Some women can walk around for weeks with their cervixes dilated a few centimeters without going into Labor. Regardless, it’s a warning that the day of delivery is approaching.

Increased discharge

Between weeks 37 and 40, you may start seeing bits and pieces of your cervical mucus plug falling out. It doesn’t sound good, but this barrier has helped shield your child from countless germs and bacteria.

When the cervix has relaxed and opened up enough to let it go, the plug leaves the body. The plug may be followed by spotting (also called a bloody show) and is normally natural. It can take up to a few weeks before Labor begins in full force, while delivery may be imminent.

Contractions

In frequency and strength, Braxton-Hicks contractions can pick up. These contractions prepare the uterus for birth, are normally painless, and do not follow a normal routine of practice. If they get heavy or uncomfortable and don’t quell them by eating, drinking water, or lying down, your contractions may be the real deal.

Start monitoring the time between both of them and let your doctor know when they are three to five minutes apart.

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Water breaking

You may be concerned that after your water breaks, you would suddenly go into Labor. Rest assured that it certainly would not happen to you. Labor finally starts; only 8 to 10 percent of females will experience ruptured membranes.

Contact your doctor if you encounter any of the other symptoms indicating a gush or even a drip. Labor could be just around the corner. If you are far enough away during your pregnancy, your doctor will want you to deliver your child in the next 24 hours.

What causes prodromal Labor?

There are many hypotheses as to what causes prodromal Labor, but the medical community has not identified a single cause. Most researchers seem to believe that the body’s way of planning for productive Labor is prodromal Labor.

Several possible contributing factors exist:

  • The position of your baby: If your child is in a breech position, you might be more likely to undergo prodromal Labor. The hypothesis is that the uterus tries to shift the baby with contractions for a period of time and then fails if it does not succeed.
  • Physical factor: An uneven pelvis or uterine irregularity may lead to these contractions.
  • Feeling anxious or afraid: Prodromal Labor may be caused by apprehensive feelings about your pregnancy or other things in your life.
  • History of previous pregnancies: After multiple births, this could be due to the way the uterus changes or relaxes.

Typically, prodromal Labor is not a cause for alarm and does not mean that your baby is in danger. But if you should have questions, the healthcare provider should always be called.

Seeking help

Your particular condition will depend on whether or not you need to contact your physician or midwife. In general, if your pregnancy is low risk, if you have prodromal Labor, you typically won’t have to call your healthcare provider.

However, it may be hard to say if your contractions are a sign of active Labor or prodromal Labor. When you have questions and to rule out other issues, you should still reach out to your healthcare providers. 

If it is active Labor, Labor progresses at distinct paces and intensities depending on the particular woman. Notice everything new and different when you realize your body is changing and preparing to bring your baby into the world.

You can encounter most of the Labor signs, and it might still be a while before your baby comes. Alternatively, you may split your water and produce it within hours.

The confusion might make you nervous, but the average duration of Labor for first-time moms is between 12 and 24 hours once it starts for real. Keep the lines of contact open with your provider for questions and concerns. To you, best of luck!

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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

During times when contractions have stopped, relax. To keep your energy levels up, remember to stay hydrated and nourished. Use this time to practice the coping strategies for each contraction to get through. Techniques for breathing and calming can be very useful.

When to Contact Your Doctor

Feeling confused about when to contact your doctor or midwife with your questions is common, but that’s what they’re there for. With even the smallest problems, feel free to name them.

Maintain a running list to bring to your next appointment with any non-urgent questions. But err on the side of caution for something that feels unclear or overwhelming or maybe something major.

If you experience uncomfortable contractions and are not sure whether they are the “real thing” or not, make sure to give your healthcare provider a call to talk about them.

Furthermore, it’s certainly time to call if the contractions are followed by any of the following other signs of Labor:

  • Your mucus plug, which resembles a thick, long globe of mucus, has been lost and maybe blood-tinged.
  • You have experienced light bleeding or spotting (any excessive bleeding should be reported to your healthcare provider ASAP).
  • Your water has broken.
  • Diarrhoea or nausea is what you feel.
  • Your contractions have been strong enough to maintain a regular conversation, or pay attention to something else is difficult.
  • Throughout time, the contractions have become more intense, closer together, and longer-lasting.
  • When your baby drops low into your pelvis, you have undergone “lightening,” generally felt as downward pressure and an intensified need for urination. You may also note that you can relax now.

When you contact your healthcare provider to report any or more of these symptoms, they will help you determine what your next step is, whether to “wait for it,” come in for an assessment or quickly get to your hospital or preferred place of birth.

A Word From Healthtian

While prodromal Labor is not the same as active Labor, your day-to-day life can be extremely uncomfortable and affect it. Although most prodromal Labor cases last for just a couple of days, some women undergo weeks of it.

During this time, try to relax as much as possible as you will need your stamina for productive Labor.

Rest assured that if you do not feel any of the other tell-tale signs of Labor (usually your healthcare provider will tell by only listening to your voice on the phone) and your contractions have not risen in duration, you are still not in Labor. Even if you do not undergo prodromal Labor, don’t worry. Not everybody does.

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