Prodromes? What now? Is it labor or a false alarm? Come, and we’ll tell you all about prodromes (and how to survive them).
“Prodromal labor” aka “false alarm” is the early sign of labor when pregnant women begins to feel Braxton Hicks contractions, better known as prodromes.
Technically, the term “false labor” is a very poor way to describe the situation, as the scientific community acknowledges that these are real contractions, although less intense and frequent than active labor contractions.
What are Prodromes?
Prodromes are the early contractions of the uterus, marking the pre-labor or latent stage.
During this stage, contractions are spaced out and irregular. They come with some consistency, but there isn’t a noticeable pattern, e.g.: a contraction every 10 minutes or every 5 minutes. It’s kind of a mix—maybe you’ll feel one contraction now and another one 30 minutes later, or a prodromal contraction followed by the next one after an hour.
Prodromes closely resemble premenstrual contractions, especially the milder ones.
Typically, they’re just a bit uncomfortable and pretty manageable. The best part? They’re not continuous. At this point, the mom-to-be is usually feeling good, she can talk normally and engage in activities, and she can even eat and drink freely. The feeling here is like “Alright, this is doable — I’ve got this!“
Are Prodromes and Braxton Hicks contractions the same thing?
No. In the third trimester of pregnancy, a few days or even weeks before labor, a pregnant woman may notice her belly getting intermittently firm. It happens regularly but isn’t painful or bothersome. These are Braxton Hicks contractions, as the body starts practicing for the real upcoming labor contractions. On the other hand, prodromes can be uncomfortable and mildly painful (usually very little) and represent the phase preceding actual labor.
When do prodromes typically begin?
usually, prodromes tend to start from week 37 onwards and are more common in first-time pregnants since the body is still unfamiliar with labor.
However, the onset of prodromes can be influenced by various factors: anxiety, stress, baby’s weight, gestational age, fetal position, to name a few. Therefore, some women may feel prodromes several days before labor, while others may experience them only a few hours before—and some might not even realize they’re going through prodromes.
How long does the prodromal phase last?
The duration can vary from woman to woman, but on average, prodromes last from 24 to 72 hours before the active labor phase begins, characterized by rhythmic and progressive contractions.
How to tell if it's prodromal or active labor?
Prodromes are inconsistent and bearable. Although they may cause discomfort, they are generally less intense, and just as they started, they can stop suddenly.
The main difference between the latent stage and active labor is that active labor is progressive. Contractions kick-in and tend to progressively increase in both rhythm and intensity.
On the other hand, prodromes may remain relatively the same in terms on pain intensity for quite some time, and their frequency lacks a consistent rhythm.
The best way to identify if it’s prodromal labor or active labor is by using a contraction timer (there are several free options available online and for smartphones) to mark the start and end of each contraction. What are you looking for? Duration and pattern. Typically, labor contractions last an average of 60 seconds.
When you start to notice a rhythmic pattern (for example, marking 5 consecutive contractions that occurred every 10 minutes each), you have likely started the active labor stage.
What to do when you start feeling prodromes?
Here are some survival tips for prodromes:
- Relax and Enjoy: Prodromes are bearable, albeit annoying. You can still go for a walk, eat, drink, and converse during the latent phase. Take the opportunity to spend time with loved ones or engage in activities you enjoy.
- Prepare for Birth
Many women feel “especially active” during the latent phase. Some spontaneously start cleaning the house, others use the time to buy the last-minute preparations for birth (especially those opting for a home birth and wanting a prepared environment), and some check their hospital bags.
- Indulge in Something Tasty
Want to savor a special treat? During prodromes, it’s still possible to go to a restaurant or ice cream shop, for example, and enjoy the company of friends and family. However, it’s advisable to avoid overly spicy or fatty foods to maintain your well-being during active labor.
- Cool Off in the Heat, Warm Up in the Cold
If it’s warm, consider going to the pool, as water often helps alleviate the discomfort and pains of prodromes. If it’s cold, opt for a warm bath, especially if you have a bathtub at home.
- Rest Whenever Possible
Active labor requires a lot of energy, physical effort, and can be quite exhausting (as we doulas say: that’s why it’s called labor!). Therefore, don’t miss any opportunity to rest and take that nap to “gather energy” for the next phase.
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