When it's not "real labour"
You've spent the last 8-9 months preparing, you've read all the books, taken the classes, and written your birth plan you are ready and waiting. One day contractions start, you feel like they are getting real, so you head off to the hospital. You are full of excitement and a little nervous, totally normal. When you get there and get checked out the nurse tells you that “no this isn’t real labour, the best thing to do is go home and rest”. You look at her and question her because this feels really real to you, but she still sends you home. You are disappointed and frustrated but you try and get some rest, then it all stops. So it must not have been real.
A few days later it starts again, this time it’s got to be real right? So off you go again, and once again the nurses say “no sorry it’s not real labour, go home, maybe you will be back in later tonight”. So you go home more disappointed and frustrated then last time. You are uncomfortable, getting tired and emotional. This maybe keeps happening over and over again.
What's really going on?
There's an actual term for it! You are experiencing what is called Prodromal Labour. Prodromal labour is the medical term they use for "false labour" however it doesn't mean that labour is actually false. It's a common misconception that frustrates mothers to be that are experiencing it. To them this feel like real labour, and in reality it does. Basically it means that you are experiencing contractions with little to no cervical dilation to push you to active labour. Prodromal labour often starts like active labour, but it can slow down, start and stop or be all over the place with no real pattern at all. This can go on for 24-48 hours, or for days sometimes even weeks before active labour begins.
So why is it Happening?
Why are you going through all these very real feeling “false” alarms? No one knows for sure, it could be stress, level of activity, or baby’s position but no studies show a direct correlation between any of these and prodromal labour. Chances are it’s just the way your body prepares for labour. Sometimes women who experience prodromal labour will also experience precipitous (really fast) births once active labour kicks into gear.
How Can I tell if it’s real or not?
Typically prodromal labour presents itself as contractions that may be all over the place some of them stronger and some of them weaker and they come and go. Usually not longer than 5 minutes and do not get closer together. You may feel back pain/pressure and have discharge or spotting (show) but there should be no heavy bleeding. You might not be able to tell if you are actually in active labour or not though. Prodromal labour can feel very much like active labour, you may even experience transition like (really close together, intense) contractions. The biggest difference between active and prodromal labour is that you are not dilating/progressing.
When should I go in?
We always suggest that if you are unsure get checked out. The nurses/doctors/midwives have plenty of experience with patients experiencing false alarms. They are more than happy to check you out and see what’s going on. They would rather you call them, so you don’t accidentally birth unassisted. What you are feeling is real, even when you are being told it isn’t real labour. Your body is doing its thing and you don’t need to feel bad for getting checked out when you are uncomfortable or unsure.
How to deal
Rest, get as much rest as you can, I know it’s probably hard because you are uncomfortable and can’t actually sleep but you need to conserve energy and prepare for the main event.
Relax, sometimes resting isn’t sleeping it’s just hanging out somewhere comfortable. Try a bath or a shower to help ease off some of the discomfort. Sit on a birth ball or change up your position. Hands and knees, or supported hands and knees positions can be really beneficial if you are also experiencing back pain. You can also use yoga, meditation or visualizations to cope with the discomfort.
Eat and Drink, this is important because dehydration can also cause contractions, and you need to keep up your energy. Try eating small light meals, or snacks with complex carbs and a little bit of protein to keep you going.
Massage, sometimes a nice relaxing massage, or some counter pressure during the contractions can ease off the discomfort.
Distractions, keep yourself distracted by going shopping, cooking, reading, watching movies/TV, whatever helps relax you and keep your mind off of what’s going on.
Activity, while it’s important to rest and relax, sometimes a little bit of activity can be beneficial too. Go for a walk or do some stairs, these activities may increase the strength of the contractions and progress your labour. Sometimes swimming or dancing if you feel up to it can also work. But remember not to overdo it, don’t tire yourself out.
Ask for help, it’s OK to ask for help with cooking, cleaning, childcare etc. because you need to be able to focus and cope with your contractions. A doula is also beneficial, because not only will he or she have some practical tips/tricks that you might not have thought of yet, they will be there emotionally for you. A doula is a safe person who you can call and cry, rage, vent, and complain, whatever you need to do. Your doula will reassure you, validate your feelings, support you and help get you comfortable and relaxed.
Request medical pain relief, if it’s getting to the point you are really struggling handling things on your own, you can talk to your care provider about what type of pain relief options are available to you. Sometimes it can be beneficial if nothing else is working.
Have you experienced prodromal labour before? Leave a comment below with a tip that worked for you.