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Prodromal labor, hurry up and wait

by | Jan 25, 2016 | Childbirth, childbirth education, labor support, Pregnancy | 0 comments

I was about 37 weeks pregnant with my first child. I was working part-time in a job that involved driving all over the city and also sitting in kid-sized chairs for hours at a time. I felt huge and uncomfortable and being new to childbirth, I was anxious about knowing when to alert my birth team that it was baby time. I remember standing in the kitchen of our eclectically decorated one bedroom condo, putting together a lasagna that I intended on devouring in the very near future and…whoa….I felt a sensation in my abdomen that told me to stop. My body seemed to be asking for my attention. It wasn’t a shooting pain, or a breathtaking sensation, it was a: hang-on-a-second, let me sit down for a minute pain in my lower back and abdomen that lasted no longer than 30 seconds, but it felt different than any other pregnancy related sensation I’d had until that point.

I had no idea what prodromal labor was. I had never heard the word prodrome. It even took me a few tries to say it correctly when I did learn about it in my doula training 2.5 years later.

Nearly every night for the last 3 weeks of my first pregnancy I felt the same type of contractions for 3-5 hours every night, between 7pm and 12am. I even timed some of them the first week, noting that they were between 10-15 minutes apart, sometimes becoming more regular, but always stopping right around midnight. I even went into the hospital, not once, but TWICE only to be told I wasn’t far enough into early labor to stay. Honestly, I was devastated at being told to go home, but in retrospect, I’m glad I had those extra days to allow my body to get things started on my own.

This article gives a great description and several examples of 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.

I will add, however, that prodromal labor IS part of real labor. It is one of many ways the body prepares itself to birth a baby. It is valid, it can be annoying and uncomfortable, and it represents active steps towards your end goal of having your baby in your arms. The tricky part is that there is no way to tell how long your body will prodrome before active labor begins. Pregnancy, especially the last few weeks are a delicate and often times frustrating waiting game, which is difficult for us who live within a culture which values immediacy.

The exact causes of prodromal labor are not clear. In some cases, it may be that the baby is not in optimal position and your body is working to rotate the baby slowly but surely. However, just because you experience prodromal labor does not mean that your baby is in a non-optimal position. Every body is different and every labor is unique, sometimes prodromal labor is simply part of the way your body prepares for childbirth.

Whatever the reason, the best tip I’ve heard for how to attend to prodromal labor is from Thérèse Hak-Kuhn, the founder of toLabor: just do life.

Do life – carry on with your daily routines while acknowledging your body’s signals by taking extra care of yourself in the ways that work best for you. For some that could be to prepare and enjoy a nice meal with your partner, snuggle up with a book and a cup of tea, go see a movie, or request a foot rub from your partner or make an acupuncture appointment. Whatever you do, take a deep breath, a step back, and slow down. You’ll need all your energy soon enough as you bring that baby into the world.