All About Prodromal Labor

Prodromal labor involves contractions that prepare the cervix for labor. Although they can be bothersome, they aren’t painful.
All About Prodromal Labor

Written by Ana Núñez

Last update: 25 May, 2022

When a woman is about to give birth, all the signs seem to point to that moment. Discomfort, pain, and contractions are indicators of the proximity of childbirth. But a mother-to-be may mistake real labor for prodromal labor.

This usually happens to first-time moms, and most tend to go see a doctor to discover if they’re really about to go into labor or not. This is due to how common cases of false labor have become in hospitals.

In this article, we’ll explain how to recognize prodromal labor.

What’s prodromal labor?

The word “prodromal” is derived from the Greek word “precursor”. Prodromal labor is preparatory, irregular contractions of varying intensity, that are sometimes not very painful and pass after a few minutes with rest or a change in position.

They disappear and start again indefinitely, for up to two weeks before delivery. The frequency can increase as they do their real job: modifying the cervix.

The cervix is ​​closed and measures approximately one inch. As contractions occur, the uterus softens, shortens, and dilates. This is known as effacement. The dilation phase can stretch the structure up to an inch.

A woman with false contractions.
Non-labor contractions prepare the cervix for delivery.

This article may interest you: What Is Labor Induction and How Is it Done?

The signs of prodromal labor

There are non-labor and labor contractions. Braxton Hicks contractions, which appear from week 20, and prodromal labor, belong to the group of non-labor contractions. On the other hand, dilation is part of labor contractions.

Prodromal labor is when significant changes begin to occur in the cervix, where the baby will come out. The descent and accommodation of the baby’s head or fitting in the canal will be a determining sign. That’s why the woman feels discomfort in the lower abdominal area and even in the groin.

Prodromal labor doesn’t have a defined onset. However, it’s accompanied by increased contraction frequency and intensity. Vaginal discharge increases, the woman urinates more frequently, and, sometimes, she may expel the mucous plug.

These contractions have an estimated duration of 30 seconds, five to 20 minutes apart. A pregnant woman can lead her life normally with prodromal labor. Rest can even help stop these contractions. They don’t suppress appetite either.

The differences between prodromal labor and actual labor

Braxton Hicks contractions are the first to manifest themselves. Although they cause discomfort, they’re usually painless. Their intensity varies and they occur every 10 minutes.

These contractions appear at or even before week 20 and affect a big area of ​​the uterine muscle. Sometimes they occur when the pregnant woman is stressed or fatigued.

In late pregnancy, they cause moderate hypogastric pain, which is specifically known as false labor. They’re no cause for concern. On the contrary, they indicate that the body is getting ready for childbirth because they help to soften the cervix.

The difference lies in their intensity and regularity, but also the week in which they appear. Real labor contractions last about a minute, are usually three minutes apart and become increasingly stronger. And if they become farther apart, they’ll do so at a regular rate.

But the real difference between prodromal labor and real labor lies in the fact that real contractions don’t allow the mother to do anything else. Her entire body will be focused on the birthing experience.

When a woman’s water breaks, oxytocin, a hormone that the body also releases during orgasm and lactation, is stimulated by uterine distension and irrigates the mother’s bloodstream.

A pregnant woman with contractions.
The pain of contractions, both false ones and those that lead to real labor vary depending on a woman’s tolerance.

Knowing how to recognize prodromal labor

You need to know that you shouldn’t go to the hospital if you have prodromal labor, as the real labor could be hours or even days away. The expulsion of the mucus plug, which could be whitish or pink (due to residual blood), can stain your underwear one or several days before delivery.

On the other hand, the mother may feel as if she’s going to menstruate or a strong pressure in her pelvis. Prodromal labor contractions are between five to 20 minutes apart. Unless you’re a month or more from your due date, you must go to the hospital. If this isn’t the case, you should stay home.

Remember that serenity, controlled breathing, and company are essential in labor. True labor consists of regular, intense contractions that last longer and don’t stop when you change position or rest.

If you’re a first-time mom, you should go to the hospital if you observe that your contractions are at least five minutes apart, last one minute, and manifest for two hours. If you’re not a first-time mom, the contractions typical of labor will last at least an hour and will be 10 minutes apart.

Knowing how to recognize real labor will avoid untimely hospital visits and maneuvers to speed delivery along. For example, the artificial breaking of water and the application of intravenous oxytocin. The more natural the childbirth process, the better.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.