You are 38 weeks pregnant. It is 10pm at night and your labor starts. YAY! Contractions are 7 minutes apart, steady and lasting about 45 seconds. They don’t feel like Braxton-Hicks contractions, so this must be the real thing! Steady, real, feeling like labor.
This goes on until 2am when suddenly, everything stops.
The next night the same thing happens. And the next, and the next.
Welcome to prodromal labor.
Though not often talked about and poorly understood, prodromal labor is an important subject. Likely the cause of many early trips to the hospital, emotional and physical exhaustion on the part of the mother, and dashed hopes of natural birth, prodromal labor is something that needs to be talked about more and understood better.
What is prodromal labor?
Prodromal labor is usually defined as a labor that starts and stops, sometimes for days on end. Prodromal labor feels like real labor, it acts like real labor and in many ways it is real labor. Sadly, it eventually stops and doesn’t result in a baby like active labor does.
Andrea, a birth teacher in Granbury, TX described her prodromal labor like this:
“My second pregnancy I had 3 days of prodromal labor. I started having contractions on Sunday. They would last for several hours and would get closer together but never closer than 5 minutes apart. After a few hours they would fizzle out and then a few hours later start back up again.”
Other women experience this for weeks. Kristin, a Chiropractor in Burleson, TX described it thus:
“I had 3 weeks of prodromal labor with my third baby with contractions every 15 minutes on the dot. I knew the time by my contractions. Occasionally they would get closer...every 5 min for several hours or every 2 1/2 min for hours in the evenings. It really messed with my emotions.”
Different than Braxton-Hicks (which causes no cervical change and which can feel spotty and is generally painless) prodromal labor contractions feel like regular labor and even an experienced mother may be confused and unsure of what is going on. Cori, a birth teacher in Salinas and Carmel, CA said this about her prodromal labor with her third pregnancy, "I went to the doctor thinking I was in labor one of the nights. I had labored twice before, it felt real." Her contractions would last for roughly 6 hours, coming every 5-10 minutes.
Prodromal labor is also different than early labor: prodromal labor doesn’t produce a baby in the next 12 or even 24 hours. It starts and seems serious, and then fizzles out, often at around the same time each day.
You can’t talk about prodromal labor without discussing the emotional impact it can have. Hailie an birth instructor in Abilene, TX said that, “I was REALLY tempted to just go to the hospital - I knew they'd give me Pitocin when labor stalled and I'd end up with a baby. It took a lot of energy and willpower to stay at home. It was the most emotionally exhausting thing I've ever been through. Prodromal labor almost derailed my attempt at a natural birth.”
What can you do about prodromal labor?
As you have probably guessed, prodromal labor isn’t something that anybody wishes for or really enjoys. Is there anything you can do about it?
Many birth professionals feel that prodromal labor is the result of poor positioning on the part of the baby. Sometimes a baby that is positioned “sunny side-up” or posterior will want to move into a more optimal or anterior position.
To remedy this, labor is triggered and the body, the uterus and the baby try to make that baby turn into an anterior position. But, after a few hours the body will take a break, only to try again a bit later.
If positioning issues are the cause of your prodromal labor, then there are a few things that may help:
Chiropractic- Every Birth Boot Camp 10 week childbirth class will have a focus (class 3) on chiropractic and the huge help it can be in labor. Chiropractic adjustments specifically those done by an ICPA certified chiropractor, can help align the spine and pelvis and allow the baby to move into a more optimal position.
Position changes- Another thing your class will talk a lot about is position changes for the mother. There is actually a LOT you can do to help encourage an anterior fetal position and your birth class will cover this over and over again. From hands and knees position to birth balls to lunges, there are many tools at your disposal. Spinningbabies.com can also be a great resource for this. Your class will guide you AND your partner through specific things that may help.
Fixable or fate?
It is possible that this is just how some women labor, and maybe you are one of these women. While it doesn’t sound fun, it is possible to have a positive and even natural birth experience with prodromal labor. The bad news is that it can be exhausting both physically and emotionally. The good news is that you and your partner will have lots of practice sessions where you can put into use all the relaxation techniques and positions you learned in your birth class. The other good news: often when a woman who has prodromal labor finally goes into the “real thing”- it goes quickly. Your body has been working, warming up, and getting ready for your birth.
Prodromal labor isn’t a sign that you don’t work, but the opposite. Your body is trying to get ready for a great birth! Patience can be hard, especially with the added stress of expectations from yourself and others and the weight and discomfort common at the end of pregnancy. Rest when you can, enlist outside help in the form of your chiropractor, doula, midwife and partner, and give yourself permission to cry when you need to. You CAN still have an amazing birth.