There are typically three different phases of labor—early labor, active labor and transition. But in some instances, often for first time labors, there is a fourth phase: prodromal labor. While this phase doesn’t happen often, when it does it can cause a lot of confusion, especially for first time moms unless they have a certified doula who can help them understand what is going on.
In medicine, the word “prodrome” or “prodromal phase” means an early symptom or set of symptoms that indicates the onset of a condition. So, in the instance of labor, prodromal labor is the earliest sign that your body is preparing for labor, and that labor is beginning.
Some women will only experience vague symptoms, such as loose stools, loss of the mucous plug, or even have a strong nesting instinct. Contractions won’t start for a few hours or even days, and will progress slowly. Only in hindsight will you be able to tell that these were all signs of the start of labor.
Other women will experience contractions early on, with their contractions coming regularly, but not progressing. Typically, the prodromal phase can last anywhere from 24-72 hours, although in some cases it can come and go. Moms who are expecting their second, third, or later baby may experience prodromal labor that comes on at night, and fades by the next morning. As a result of the contractions, some women may experience some cervical changes, (softening of the cervix, changing from a posterior position to a more anterior position), but these changes won’t result in much cervical dilation.
So, how do you know if you are experiencing prodromal labor or are in the early stages of labor? The best advice is to try and ignore your labor until it is impossible to continue ignoring. This means that you should continue to do what you normally would do.
- Eat well, stay hydrated, use the restroom often, and keep yourself focused on other things, besides the contractions.
- If you would normally be working, try to get some work done to keep yourself busy.
- If you would normally be sleeping or resting, try to get some sleep or rest as you are going to need it.
- Try to watch a funny or romantic movie to get your hormones going.
- If it helps, use a hot pack on your lower back, or right about your pubic bone for a little bit. Perhaps you’d prefer to rest and soak in a nice warm bath.
Women who experience prodromal labor for longer periods of time may find relief in the fact that once things start to move along, and labor starts, things move quite quickly! Other women who are unable to find any sort of relief due to prodromal labor, may find it a good time to contact their certified doula. Your doula will be able to help you try some different techniques that can help to get your body and the baby ready for a smooth labor. Aside from the physical assistance that your doula can provide, they also provide emotional support that proves to be invaluable.
The best thing to remember is to pace yourself. Stay hydrated, get plenty of rest, and make sure that you are eating. Labor will eventually resolve itself in a more regular pattern over time, try to remain patient. Don’t exhaust your energy by trying to force labor to progress along before your body and your baby are ready. It is common during prodromal labor for contractions to either stop or slow down when you lay down, change positions, or start to relax. Don’t be upset if your contractions stop, it just means that it isn’t time for your baby to come just yet.