Your Pregnancy

How to Survive Prodromal Labor (And How To Tell If You’re Experiencing It)

Otherwise known as "false labor", and it's no fun at all.
Rachel Hiser

Every woman’s story of pregnancy and delivery is different. Some have fairly uneventful pregnancies while others are hit with every discomfort in the book. Some women have quick deliveries while others can be counted in days.

Some women can barely tell they’re in labor, and some women experience what’s known as prodromal labor.

You can read every pregnancy book and blog out there to prepare yourself, but there is an air of mystery around the due date and beginning of labor, especially for first-time moms.

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How will I know I’m going into labor? Will my water break? How accurate is my due date?

At the first twinge of belly discomfort, you’re running to the car with your hospital bag, only to arrive and then be sent home.

Surprise! You’re in prodromal labor.

What is prodromal labor?

Sometimes called “false labor”, prodromal labor is the beginning of contractions, but it does not dilate your cervix.

The contractions are real, but they start and stop, never increasing in frequency or intensity. It can start up to a week or even month before you’re due.

While prodromal labor is real contractions, it’s not real labor. You’ll probably feel the contractions at the same time every day, but there’s no need to run to the hospital.

It feels like the beginning of labor, but you could really be weeks away from giving birth.

Not fun.

It’s important to remember that experiencing prodromal labor doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong and it doesn’t cause any harm to your baby.

How can I tell the difference from real labor?

Many women take trips to the hospital only to arrive and be turned away because they’re not in real labor. To hopefully avoid such a trip, learn to recognize the differences between real and prodromal labor.

Real Labor

  • Contractions will grow stronger and lengthen in duration.
  • You’ll feel pain in your back, abdomen, and maybe legs.
  • Nothing you do slows or eases the contractions.

Prodromal Labor

  • Walking and/or drinking water helps slow down or even stop the contractions
  • Contractions are regular but don’t increase in speed or duration beyond five minutes apart.
  • Pain in located in the lower abdomen.

Even experienced moms can have a hard time telling the difference between prodromal and real labor.

It’s usually better to be safe than sorry, so if you can’t tell the difference you should probably head to the hospital. If it is prodromal labor, your doctor can talk to you about what to expect and when you should come back.

How does it differ from Braxton Hicks?

Braxton Hicks contractions are considered “practice contractions” while prodromal labor is “practice labor.”

Braxton Hicks contractions are the tightening of your uterus and abdominal wall (some women compare them to menstrual cramps). They can come and go and don’t increase in intensity.

Most women don’t even feel them. Women who experience them say it’s more of a tightening and discomforting feeling rather than pain.

Prodromal labor follows a regular pattern and the intensity varies. Because they are real contractions, they can be quite painful!

Braxton Hicks contractions can start in the second trimester while prodromal labor only starts at the end of your pregnancy.

Read our momtricks guide to Braxton Hicks.

What causes prodromal labor?

There is no conclusive answer to what causes prodromal labor.

Some people believe it depends on your baby’s position, others think it can be caused by stress or physical activity. Because some women are more prone to it than others, leading some researchers to believe it is caused by a uterine abnormality. It also tends to be more common among women who’ve had three pregnancies.

So, unfortunately, you won’t know if you’re going to experience prodromal labor.

Some women just draw the short straw. But perhaps, it’s just your body’s way of saying “Hey! Get ready, labor’s almost here! And I need to practice.”

How can you deal with it?

While it can be scary or unnerving, prodromal labor is considered normal. It can be tough to work through, but ultimately you’re getting ready to meet your baby! Here are some tips on surviving prodromal labor:

  • Remember that there’s nothing wrong with you. This is a normal occurrence! Don’t add worrying to your already full plate. Reach out to other women who’ve had this experience and do some research so you can feel better prepared.
  • Stay hydrated. Drinking water can ease the pain. You also need to keep up your energy because exhaustion can hit you quickly, and you’ll need your strength for when real labor arrives.
  • Take naps and get as much sleep as you can. Again with the exhaustion. Getting enough sleep while pregnant is hard enough, throw in prodromal contractions and what’s a girl to do!? However, sleep is important for your mental and physical health, so nap when you can.
  • Try light exercises and stretching. This can also help ease the pain and help your baby get in a better position for birth. It might also speed up the arrival of real labor.
  • Use the relaxation and breathing techniques from your birthing class. You might as well get some practice in. If your prodromal labor lasts a long time, it will be essential that you learn to cope with it. By testing out relaxations methods now, you can see what works for you.
  • Ask for help from family and friends. There’s no shame in asking for help. You’re having contractions! You can’t be expected to stay on top of housework, yardwork, regular work, and possibly other children. Reach out to friends and family.

The end is near.

Going through prodromal labor is a tough experience. Make sure you have the support you need. And if you have any questions or feel that your pain is something abnormal, contact your doctor immediately.

If you experience prodromal labor, just remember it’s a sign your baby is on its way! Your body is just preparing you for that moment you meet your child. Some women who experience prodromal labor also experience shortened real labor. There’s a little silver lining!

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