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What you need to know about prodromal labor

Monica Beyer is a mom of four and has been writing professionally since 2000, when her first book, Baby Talk, was published. Her main area of interest is attachment parenting and all that goes with it, including breastfeeding, co-sleepin...

Gearing up for the big day

You’re near (or past) your due date, and every night, contractions arrive like clockwork — but they don't seem to go anywhere. Learn more about prodromal labor and how to deal with it.
Woman with prodromal labor pain

Prodromal labor, also known as the early phase of labor, doesn’t happen to everyone — but if it happens to you, you’re not likely to forget it. We chatted with moms who experienced it to learn how they dealt with contractions that seem go nowhere, but are still uncomfortable and not so much fun.

Prodromal labor

A prodrome is an early indicator or an early symptom of something going on with your body. You may be familiar with the scourge that is a cold sore, and if you’re afflicted, you may know that one is on its way because you’re tingly in one area of your mouth. The same goes for prodromal labor — early contractions that don’t increase in length, frequency or intensity may be the first sign that labor is on its way, although the true timetable is up to your body and your baby.

Dr. Allison Hill, co-author of The Mommy Docs’ Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy and Birth (Amazon, $12) was on hand to discuss prodromal labor with us. She tells us that prodromal labor doesn’t mean for sure that true labor will begin in a day or two — in fact, it could be weeks away — but it can have some minor changes on your cervix in the meantime. “Contractions are usually mild and irregular,” she explained. “During this phase, the cervix softens and dilates just a few centimeters.”

Brittney experienced prodromal labor for weeks with her second baby, and had an excellent support system in place so she could get the rest she needed. “Everyone thought Penny would come early since Bella was born on her due date, so when I started having contractions at 38 weeks and 1 day, I thought that at the very least she'd arrive soon,” she shared. “Penny had other ideas, though, and wasn't born for another 3 1/2 weeks. I had regular contractions pretty much every night from midnight until about 5 a.m., and I couldn't sleep through them. Luckily my husband was awesome through everything and woke up with our daughter every morning so I could get a decent amount of rest.”

While the contractions for many moms can be mild, they can also be uncomfortable to downright painful. “Some of my early contractions were tougher than my 9 centimeter contractions!” remembered Jessica from Canada. “I went from the first morning until early morning on the third [day] with contractions never more than 10 minutes apart. My cervix took its sweet time opening, and as much as I urged my midwife to check me — every time she would I was only a couple centimeters dilated.”

Coping mechanisms

As Brittney and Jessica experienced, contracting without being in active labor can be exhausting and if it goes on for a long time, it can be discouraging as well. “Moms should try to relax as much as possible,” said Dr. Hill. “We recommend they take a warm shower or bath, get a massage, or go for a long slow walk.”

Jessica, who is expecting her second baby, already has a plan in place if it happens again. “This time around I am planning a homebirth and plan on ignoring contractions for as long as I can,” she told us. “I think I was just SO excited to be in labor it was impossible to ignore. I plan on having some distractions ready (baking a birthday cake, go for a walk, etc.) this time around so I am not just staring at the clock.”

So, if contractions have started up, but your labor is going nowhere, take heart — it may be dilating your cervix just a little bit, which is less work to do later. Rest up as much as you can, because soon you will be the star of the show.

More on labor and birth

Having sex to induce labor
How to speed up labor
How to recognize preterm labor

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