Guide to Prodromal Labor

Updated: Mar 1, 2019

Kaelie Harris, Doula • Huntsville, AL




Prodromal labor happens when contractions start and stop before labor begins. This can go on for days or weeks and it can take a toll mentally or physically on the person that is going through it. Some people refer to prodromal labor as "false labor" because these contractions are not furthering dilation, but I like to think of prodromal labor as very early labor.


The contractions that come with prodromal labor are real contractions and they can be very close together. This can cause many people to think that it is time and alert their birth team, friends, and family and rush to the hospital, only for the contractions to fade out and be sent home. Being sent home or being told that she is in "false labor" can be very discouraging, but these contractions are your body "warming up" to get labor going.


Why does prodromal labor happen? There are many reasons for prodromal labor, including baby's position, fear or anxiety, and previous pregnancies. Sometimes prodromal labor is your uterus trying to get baby in a more optimal position. Sometimes fears and anxieties can stall labor. And sometimes in a 2nd, 3rd, or more pregnancy the uterus can become more sensitive and start the contractions earlier. Whatever the reason, your body is preparing for the big day. Prodromal labor does not mean that there is anything wrong with your body or your baby.


What steps can you take to better deal with it? Prodromal labor can be hard on the mother and make her question her body. It can sometimes cause extra trips to the hospital or doctor. It can be exhausting, especially if contractions start up at night. Here are some tips to help through this time:

  1. Have great support- your partner, doula, family or friends can be helpful in encouraging you. Having people that rally around you and help you when you are exhausted can take a lot of the weight off. A doula can help by sending you resources and talking with you, helping to remind you that your body is doing what it is supposed to.

  2. Make sure you have a supportive provider- Your doctor or midwife is there to answer any questions you have. You should have a provider that you trust and that will not make you feel bad if you call with ANY questions or concerns.

  3. Rest as much as you can- prodromal labor can go on for days or even weeks. You want to be well rested for the big event, so it is important to sleep when you can. Don't be afraid to ask for extra help during this time.

  4. Stay hydrated and eat healthy foods- you want to keep your energy levels up once labor starts.

  5. Use this time to practice your comfort measures for labor- this is a great time to figure out what works for you during labor. You can practice breathing through contractions, utilizing the shower or bath, walking or moving through contractions. Have your partner practice massage and counter pressure.

  6. Self care- now is a great time to get a massage or a pedicure. Or just lay around watching tv. Whatever your version of self care is, practice it now before baby gets here. It can help you feel more calm and comfortable and help you get the rest you need.

  7. Stay busy- bake a cake, take a walk, or read a book. Keeping busy can help you keep your mind off of the contractions and the emotions that can come with prodromal labor.

So how do you know if it is prodromal labor or active labor? Sometimes you don't know or it can be very difficult to tell, but most of the time in active labor the contractions get longer, stronger, and closer together. In prodromal labor, the contractions can be intense, but they usually don't increase in intensity or last longer or get closer together. They usually stay about the same until they fizzle out. Always check with your care provider if you are not sure or if you have any questions or concerns.

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