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Towards the end of the third trimester, many women experience on and off pain in their lower belly that does not seem to go anywhere. This sudden feeling of tightness is nothing but a contraction. But does it mean that you’re entering active labor? You’re not experiencing “true” labor, but are experiencing prodromal labor.
Contractions may be of different types- Braxton Hicks contractions, prodromal labor, and active labor, and many women find it hard to differentiate. By understanding what prodromal labor is, you’ll be better prepared to distinguish between prodromal and active labor, and how to cope with the former.
What Is Prodromal Labor?
“Prodromal” derived from the Greek “precursor”, is a type of labor that occurs before the onset of active labor. Prodromal labor isn’t an indication for induction or cesarean delivery and can often be confused with “false labor”. But medical practitioners have noted that the contractions are real, but they come and go. And even though the prodromal labor contractions are real, they aren’t strong enough to bring on the changes in your cervix needed for active labor.
Prodromal labor is very common. It 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 your due date as possible (around 40 weeks).
How Can You Understand If It's Prodromal Labor?
Some moms are really confused as they’re not sure if what they’re experiencing is false labor or prodromal labor. It’s considered best to contact your healthcare provider and discuss your symptoms.
At this point, your healthcare provider might perform a test to examine your cervical dilation and if your body is preparing for birth in any other notable way.
If the following conditions are true, you are most likely experiencing prodromal labor.
- You’re towards the end of your third trimester.
- You’re experiencing intense and painful contractions.
- Your contractions are about 5 to 10 minutes apart but not getting closer together.
- Even though your contractions are regular, they also stop and start.
You aren’t showing any other indications of impending labor, such as ruptured waters, loss of your mucus plug, or bleeding.
What Are The Causes of Prodromal Labor?
There are various factors that can cause prodromal labor. Let’s take a look at the probable causes of prodromal labor.
Position Of Your Baby
Prodromal contractions are mostly triggered to help your baby in breech or posterior position, move into a birthing position. Breech means that the baby’s bottom is downward and the face is towards your tummy. The reason that these contractions start and stop is that your body is unsuccessful and it keeps trying again.
Complications Of Uterus And Pelvis
Women who have an uneven pelvis or abnormality in the uterus have an increased potential of experiencing prodromal labor.
History Of Pregnancies
Women who have had pregnancies thrice or more have a higher chance of experiencing prodromal labor. This is because of the changes that have occurred in the uterus.
It’s obvious that you are thinking (and worrying at times) about your baby. But if your emotions are heightened and you feel anxious and scared, you’ll have a higher chance of experiencing prodromal labor.
When Can Prodromal Labor Start?
Unlike actual labor, prodromal labor can begin days or hours before the real labor begins. It’s also common for some pregnant women to suffer from prodromal labor for even weeks before actual active labor begins.
Most of these contractions occur at night. The length of prodromal labor depends on your body and the position of your baby.
Signs and Symptoms of Prodromal Labor Contractions
You can differentiate that you’re experiencing prodromal labor and not the beginning of active labor. The signs and symptoms of prodromal labor are:
- Cervical dilation is minimal during a vaginal exam.
- Contractions that are weaker than active labor.
- Contractions do not increase in strength or frequency.
- Fast fading intense contractions.
- Water does not break.
- You feel the contractions in the abdomen rather than moving from your back to the front.
- Your contractions can come and go with the movement.
Experiencing some of these symptoms does not necessarily mean that you’re going through prodromal labor. These are general symptoms and every pregnancy is different.
Prodromal Labor Vs Braxton Hicks Contractions
The characteristics of prodromal labor are quite different from that of Braxton Hicks contractions. Braxton-Hicks contractions are often regarded as practice contractions, but they do not cause cervical dilation. It is common for prodromal labor to dilate or efface the cervix gradually. These contractions are normally pain-free, sporadic, and irregular.
So, what are the symptoms of Braxton Hicks contractions?
- Begins around the fourth month of pregnancy.
- Feels like a tightening in your abdomen or uterus, rather than the intense squeezing or cramping feeling of prodromal or active labor.
- More of a strong sensation or discomfort rather than truly painful.
- No regular pattern.
- Don’t get more intense over time.
- Common when you’re feeling fatigued, dehydrated, or over-extended.
Lying on your side, drinking water, and resting will decrease your Braxton Hicks contractions. These activities won’t help you ease prodromal labor contractions.
Prodromal Labor Vs Active Labor
Let’s see how prodromal labor is comparable to active labor.
- They may be painful or intense.
- Sometimes they may be as close as 5 minutes apart.
- They may continue on and off regularly for an hour or longer.
But to avoid confusion, we have listed down how they’re different from one another.
- Active labor contractions last longer and become more intense. They also get closer together with time.
- Active labor contractions are usually accompanied by other signs of labor, such as leaking fluids and bleeding.
- Drinking water or showering usually will ease or stop prodromal contractions but will have no significant effect on active labor contractions.
- Active labor contractions are prolonged and increase in intensity.
- Eventually, you will find yourself unable to converse or concentrate on much else when you are experiencing active labor contractions.
How To Cope With Prodromal Labor?
Almost every pregnant woman prepares for the pain of contraction during birth, but not many think about preparing for prodromal labor. Since there is the potential for active labor to occur not too much later, it is suggested that you conserve your energy for the actual labor and delivery.
Here are a few things that you can take help of yourself to cope with prodromal labor contractions.
- Take a warm shower
- Get yourself enough nap time during the day.
- Munch on some healthy snacks.
- Stay hydrated.
- Try light activity, such as packing your bag for the hospital.
- Go on a short walk.
- Do things that calm you: read a book, drink safe herbal tea, listen to music, meditate, etc.
If you’re losing too much sleep, inform your midwife or doctor about it. They will guide you with the correct medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment as best suited for you and your baby.
When Should You Contact The Doctor?
In case you think you’re experiencing prodromal contractions, feel free to contact your midwife or hospital. It is probably a wise decision to keep them informed so they can monitor your situation. Do not panic at this point. It’s just that communicating your symptoms to them can help you feel better about the situation and have any questions answered.
Nothing is worse than experiencing contractions that aren’t going to lead to the delivery of your baby. But it’s important you understand the difference between prodromal and active labor so you know when it is time to head to the hospital. If you can’t identify which one you’re experiencing, you should give your healthcare provider (doctor or midwife) a call to help you distinguish between the two.
Focus on yourself and find the best ways to stay well-rested and relaxed. Use prodromal labor as a practice run for the actual labor. You might feel discouraged when you experience prodromal labor, but know that it is preparing you for the active labor process and bringing you one step closer to meeting your beautiful baby.