Surviving Early Labor
Updated: Sep 13, 2022
One of the greatest challenges I often see my clients face is early, prodromal labor. The labor that comes and goes, sometimes starting as much as a month ahead of the expected due date.
So what is it and why is it such a pain in the a$$? Prodromal labor are contractions that come regularly and consistently, often with increasing intensity, signaling what most birthers believe to be the onset of what I like to call progressive labor. However, they then tend to peter out and stop completely. This cycle may happen daily, or every few days. Often called “false labor” there is nothing false about what a person experiences - the frequency, consistency and intensity of these contractions are all very real, and can become extremely frustrating to those experiencing it.
The good news is that although these cycles aren’t necessarily leading to progressive labor, they often are doing something. Clients who tend to experience prodromal labor often find upon a cervical check from their medical care provider that their body is doing work - changes to the cervix are often noted, potentially through change in position, softening, shortening, effacement or dilation. All of this is great news as it means that the body is preparing for labor, and even potentially getting a little bit of a head start! This is what differentiates it from the commonly felt Braxton-Hicks contractions that almost all birthers-to-be experience. Braxton Hicks contractions are commonly thought of as practice contractions - they are the result of the uterus tightening and releasing, rarely with any sort of consistency, and although they may be somewhat annoying or uncomfortable, they do not present with the same type of intensity that a true contraction will and have no effect on the cervix.
So, a head start before the onset of active or progressive labor - that sounds awesome, right? Then why do so many clients find this early, prodromal labor to be so challenging? Well, there are a lot of reasons. Each time a person experiences this, they are experiencing a range of both physical and emotional challenges. As we highlighted earlier, there is nothing “false” about what they are experiencing. The intensity of the contraction, although often manageable, is still very real. They take mindfulness and intention to move through, and if they happen to occur at night, as they often do, they can severely impact both quality and quantity of sleep. If this happens over the course of many days or nights, it can become physically exhausting. Layer on the excitement, anticipation and perhaps some fear that is felt each time as a birther or birthing couple wonder “is this it?”, and the roller coaster of emotions as their excitement is deflated, layering an emotional exhaustion over the physical.
The question then becomes, how does one survive this early, prodromal labor? I find many of my clients coming to me, asking “how do I get labor started again - it keeps quitting - I’ve tried everything!!” and probably much to their frustration, most times I ask them to STOP. DOING. ALL. THE. THINGS. I ask them to rest, to find ways of taking care of themselves, and to try and enjoy these last fleeting moments before the arrival of their baby. Why? Because our bodies are built with an internal and deeply-rooted physiological protection system in place. When we feel stressed or anxious, we flood out bodies with stress hormones - although we may not be in real danger, our bodies don’t know that. They are constructed such that if stress hormones are in play, that means that we are in immediate danger - think saber-tooth tiger, lack of shelter or food, etc. - and it is not a safe time or place to bring a baby earthside. Although we generally aren’t faced with needing to pick up and run from a predatory animal in our society, our bodies don’t know the difference and the more we agonize over trying to get baby out, the more we tend to introduce stress, even subconsciously, into our bodies. So… take that candlelit bath, go for that pedicure or prenatal massage, rest often and nourish your body. Try to do your very best to stay present and enjoy this moment - even though it feels like you may be pregnant forever, I promise you that baby will come.
Early, prodromal labor is hard, there is no doubt about that. Reach out to your doula for support - questions, advice, or even just a place to vent your feelings, that is what we are here for. Don’t have a doula yet? Maybe look into whether they would be a good fit. It's never too late to find and engage in doula support - a good doula that is a good fit for you should be able to create a sense of connection, trust and safety almost immediately when you first meet them, so don’t ever let time hold you back from finding the birth support you desire. Not sure how to go about picking that perfect doula for you? Check out my last blog post for my thoughts on how to find a great fit, as well as a great resource for interviewing potential doulas.
Lindsey is a DONA certified birth doula and certified prenatal yoga instructor in Calgary, Alberta, CANADA
Lindsey van der Lee
Birth Doula and Prenatal Yoga Instructor
CD(DONA) || CYT 250+