The changing table is stocked with diapers and wipes. The nursery is complete. Everyone you see is telling you just HOW pregnant you look (thanks, folks). Your due date is just around the corner (or a few days ago) and the GREAT WAIT has officially begun.
You're monitoring every twinge, every ache, every burp - and there are so many during this last stage of pregnancy!. Finally you start feeling some powerful cramping that comes and goes. You whip out a contraction app on your phone and a few cramps later begin to excitedly (and nervously) think, "It's go time!" Only, after a few hours those contractions mysteriously disappear or fail to intensify. What. The. Heck.
I learned about prodromal labor only after enduring it at the end of my first pregnancy. As my due date with Baby #2 fast approaches, I'm very grateful to know so much more about this common end-of-pregnancy challenge and hope that sharing what I've learned can help other moms-to-be keep their calm through "false labor." I'll include some bullet points that are my own personal plan for handling prodromal labor if it happens again. These are not instructions for you, merely things to think about and discuss with your health care provider.
1. Prodromal Labor Can Feel Like Real Labor
Maybe, like me, you've always heard that when you're in real labor YOU'LL KNOW! But I'll be honest, my prodromal labor (sometimes called "pre-labor" or "false labor") felt exactly like my actual first stage labor. The only difference was that my prodromal labor stalled out - every night for two weeks.
I experienced contractions that definitely caught my attention, not intensely painful, but much less comfortable than my usual Braxton Hicks. Prodromal contractions CAN feel intense.
- I plan to check in with my midwife and my doula and let them know what I'm experiencing but I won't go in to be checked at the first signs of labor.
- I'll pay attention to the prodromal labor but carry on with daily activities as long as possible (shouldn't be too hard with a toddler at home).
2. Prodromal Contractions Can Have a Pattern
Did you know that you may experience regularly timed contractions hours, days, or occasionally WEEKS before true early labor begins? I was very surprised by the regularity of my prodromal contractions. Looking back, the primary difference (externally) between my prodromal labor and my actual early labor contractions was that my prodromal contractions never got closer than 5 minutes apart. They also increased in intensity only to a point, then plateaued.
- I'll time a few contractions every hour but I won't time every single one.
- If things appear to be plateauing, I'll know that this is likely prodromal labor (here we go again!).
3. Prodromal Labor Can Exhaust You
Prodromal labor can wreck you - physically, mentally and emotionally - before your labor even begins in earnest. It can impact your sleep, stress you out, make the last days of pregnancy feel exponentially longer, wear on your partner's patience and make you feel silly for having "false alarms." I definitely think it contributed to my mental and physical undoing and unplanned epidural during my first labor.
- I will really (really) focus on getting as much rest as possible during prodromal labor.
- Ahead of time, I'll discuss with my care team my options for helping me get rest in the event that I have significant sleep problems again at the end of pregnancy (especially since my last prodromal labor was only at night)
- I will reflect on the early labor affirmations that I've written (see below) to help me stay positive and keep perspective.
4. Prodromal Labor Doesn't Mean A Faster Labor
You might think that all this "practice labor" would probably result in a faster birth. That sounded appealing and I admit I was on board with this theory when I was told by so many people that this would probably happen to me. But, as it turns out, this wasn't the case. I think that mentally preparing for a faster birth left me even more defeated and exhausted by my labor once it started. Prodromal labor differs from true labor in that it doesn't result in the myriad hormonal and physical changes necessary for a baby to be delivered.
- I won't be talking so much to family and friends about every little twinge or sign that things could be coming. I'd like to limit well-meaning but possibly discouraging feedback.
5. Prodromal Labor Is Okay
Even if you have 7 days of prodromal labor. Even if you initiate your maternity leave plan at work 4 times before the baby actually comes. Even if you're sent home from the hospital because you're not in "real labor." It is okay. Prodromal labor doesn't mean that anything is wrong with you. There doesn't seem to be a clear understanding of why some women have long "pre-labors." Rather than thinking of prodromal labor as "false labor," it might be more helpful to think of it as "practice labor."
There is also nothing wrong with you for thinking that the signs that your body is giving might be the first signs of labor. Pretty soon, very similar feelings WILL likely be the first signs of labor. Give yourself a break, do your best to relax and carry on until your body tells you to stop what you're doing and get to the big work of labor.
Let's chat! Have you ever even heard of prodromal labor? Had any experience with it? Share your story in the comments below!
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