What Is Prodromal Labor? All You Need To Know

Prodromal Labor is labor that begins and ends before active labor. It’s often referred to as “false labor“, but that’s the wrong word. Medical experts understand that contractions are true.

But they usually come and go, and Labor isn’t taking place. So, in terms of contraction pain and regularity, prodromal labor is true. What distinguishes these contractions from the contractions seen in active labor is that they begin and stop.

Prodromal Labor contractions will often come and go at the same time every day or at regular intervals. Many mothers end up contacting their childbirth team or running to the hospital (even experienced ones) assuming that Labor has begun.

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Prodromal Labor is very prevalent and can begin days, weeks, or even a month or more before the start of active labour. You would like to give your health care provider as close to 40 weeks (your due date) as possible.

Prodromal Labor is not a precursor of induction or caesarean delivery.

What Is Prodromal Labor?

Though prodromal labor is not a term used in most medical literature, it is used by many doctors and midwives to describe “practice” contractions (also known as “false labor”) that occur prior to active labor.

However, prodromal labor is not observed in all births. The word is also used to distinguish them from Braxton Hicks contractions, which are less serious and consistent.

Only active labor contractions may lead to actual labor, but both of these precursors to the main event are believed to help the body prepare for labor and delivery.

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In fact, the word “prodromal” is derived from the Greek word “precursor”, and this is an excellent way to understand what it is. Although it has many of the hallmarks of Labor (painful contractions that occur at prolonged intervals), prodromal Labor is not sufficient to induce the necessary cervical changes for active Labor.

In fact, for a few weeks or even months before you finally give birth, prodromal labor will come and go, which is part of why it is such an irritating experience for many pregnant women.

The medical information provided in this article is provided as an information resource only. This information does not create any patient-physician relationship and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.

The other aspect of prodromal labor that scares a lot of people, particularly since prodromal labor has so many symptoms of real labor, can be very confusing.

How to Tell If It’s Prodromal Labor

A lot of moms just want to know how to tell whether they’re in “false” prodromal labor or “real” labor. In certain cases, the best way to tell is to get in touch with your healthcare provider and discuss your symptoms, particularly if this is your first instance of prodromal labor.

How to Tell If It’s Prodromal Labor
A woman going through prodromal labor

Your healthcare provider may have you come to the office to assess whether or not your cervix has dilated, based on their assessment, and whether your body is preparing for birth in any other significant way.

However, if any of the conditions below are true, you are likely to experience prodromal labor rather than active labor:

  • You’re in the third trimester of your pregnancy, generally near the end.
  • You are feeling strong and potentially painful contractions.
  • Your contractions are normal but not getting closer together (usually about 5-10 minutes apart).
  • Although they may have some regularity in your contractions, they also stop and start, do not become more intense, and do not take away your breath.
  • Some imminent Labor symptoms, such as ruptured water, loss of the mucus plug, or bleeding, are not present (the “bloody show” of active Labor).
  • They emerge at the very end of their pregnancies for most women who experience prodromal contractions.

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For most women, prodromal labor occurs towards the end of pregnancy for most women who experience prodromal contractions. However, some women feel this from the end of their second trimester or the start of their third trimester.

It is most common in early pregnancy and typically does not repeat in subsequent pregnancy.

Prodromal Labor Vs. Braxton Hicks Contractions

For Braxton-Hicks contractions, prodromal labour is often mistaken, but it’s not the same thing. At any stage during pregnancy, the majority of pregnant women will experience this type of contraction. Braxton-Hicks are just workout contractions. They’re a way for the body to prepare for work.

Braxton-Hicks contractions can produce a very tight, uncomfortable feeling, but they are typically not regular or extreme. They rarely last or raise their intensity for a long time. A very typical pattern can be accompanied by prodromal labor. In terms of strength, the contractions can vary and extend.

It is also possible to ease Braxton-Hicks contractions by drinking water, eating, or relaxing. Such activities would not help to minimize prodromal labor contractions. The cervix can also slowly dilate or disappear during prodromal labor. Usually, this doesn’t happen with Braxton-Hicks contractions.

There are also very normal Braxton Hicks contractions that almost all pregnant women experience at some point. In general, however, Braxton Hicks contractions occur earlier in pregnancy. While uncomfortable, they don’t feel as similar to actual contractions as prodromal Labor contractions do (as in genuinely painful).

Braxton Hicks Contractions

Braxton Hicks Contractions

The characteristics of Braxton Hicks contractions are as follows:

  • They usually start around the fourth month of pregnancy.
  • Rather than the extreme squeezing or cramping pain of prodromal or active Labor, they feel like a contraction of your abdomen or uterus.
  • They are often painful, but rather than actually painful, and they are generally more like a strong feeling of discomfort.
  • Generally, they do not have a daily pattern or get closer together.
  • Generally, over time, they do not get more intense.
  • They sometimes come in when you feel tired, dehydrated, or over-extended.
  • Your Braxton Hicks contractions are typically minimized by lying on your side, drinking water, and relaxing.

Prodromal Labor vs. Active Labor

In general, prodromal labor contractions occur less than every five minutes and can be stopped for long periods of time. Your contractions will become more and more frequent and no longer starts and ends as soon as active labor begins.

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The closer your contractions are to each other, the closer you are to your baby. Without stopping or slowing down, actual labor contractions are getting longer, deeper, and closer together and moving towards delivery. Once the Labor progresses well (usually when the mother is dilated by more than 4 centimeters), the Labor will not end.

Prodromal Labor is similar to real Labor because:

  • Prodromal Labor contractions may be painful or intense.
  • Prodromal Labor contractions may be as close as 5 minutes apart.
  • Prodromal Labor contractions may continue on and off regularly for an hour or longer.

Does Prodromal Labor Mean Active Labor Is Near?

Prodromal Labor can occur at any time during the last month of pregnancy. However, it does not inherently mean that active labor is going to happen in the next day or even week.

Labor and childbirth are unpredictable, so there is no easy way to predict when it will begin. Here are some traditional tell-tale signs that could indicate that you’re going to have a baby very soon and that you’re in active labor:

1. Diarrhea

You can experience diarrhea at any time during your pregnancy. Diarrhea can result in dietary changes, hormonal variances, or your prenatal vitamin. However, as you approach your due date, looser stools than usual could be a sign that Labor is just around the corner.

Keep yourself hydrated and check for other early signs of Labor if your symptoms are mild. If you have a fever, extreme stomach pain, or more than one to two days of diarrhea, call your doctor.

2. Lightning

You may have heard women moaning about losing their infants. The technique they describe is called lightning. The lightning is when your child comes down to your pelvis in order to prepare for birth. You’ll probably feel more pressure on your bladder and cervix after the baby has moved into the pelvis, and you’ll feel more desire to urinate.

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3. Ripened Cervix

Your doctor may be able to give you a reasonable indication of how things are going by testing your cervix. Usually, this test is not done until very late in your pregnancy.

You can have your cervix dilated (opened) and even cleaned (thinned and stretched). Some women will walk around with their cervixes dilated a few centimeters for weeks without going to work. It’s a tip, though, that the day of delivery is approaching.

4. Increased Discharge

You can start seeing bits and pieces of your cervical mucus plug falling out between weeks 37 and 40. It doesn’t sound healthy, but this barrier has helped protect your child from countless germs and bacteria.

When the cervix relaxes and opens up enough to let it go, the plug leaves the body. The plug can be accompanied by spotting (also called a bloody show) and is usually natural. It may take up to a few weeks before the full force of labor starts, though delivery may be imminent.

5. Contractions

Braxton-Hicks contractions can pick up in frequency and intensity. These contractions prepare the uterus for birth, are usually painless, and do not follow a standard practice schedule. If they get heavy or unpleasant and don’t quench them by feeding, drinking water, or lying down, the contractions could be a real deal.

Start checking the time between them and let your doctor know when they’re three to five minutes apart.

6. Water Breaking

You might be afraid that when your water breaks, you will immediately go into Labor. Be rest assured that this would surely not happen to you. When Labor eventually begins, only 8 to 10% of females can encounter ruptured membranes.

If you have some of the other signs that suggest a gush or even a leak, call your doctor. Labor may be around the corner. If you are far enough away during pregnancy, your doctor will want your child to be born within 24 hours.

What Causes Prodromal Labor?

There are several theories as to what causes prodromal labor, but a single cause has not been identified by the medical community. Most researchers seem to agree that the body’s form of preparing for active labor is prodromal labor.

Several possible contributing factors exist:

  • The position of your baby: If your child is in a breech position, you might be more likely to experience prodromal labour. The theory is that the uterus attempts to move the infant with contractions for a period of time, and then fails if it does not work.
  • Physical factor: An uneven pelvis or uterine irregularity may lead to these contractions.
  • Feeling anxious or afraid: Prodromal Labor may be caused by apprehensive feelings about your pregnancy or other things in your life.
  • History of previous pregnancies: After multiple births, this could be due to the way the uterus changes or relaxes.

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Usually, prodromal labor is no cause for concern and does not mean that your child is at risk. However, if you should have any concerns, the health care provider should always be called.

How To Manage Prodromal Labor

What Is Prodromal Labor? All You Need To Know 1

If you are close to your due date, try to stay active during contractions. This could include:

  • Staying upright
  • Walking around
  • Using a birthing ball
  • Dancing

Relax at moments when contractions have stopped. Remember to remain hydrated and nourished to keep the energy levels up. Use this time to apply coping techniques for each contraction to get through. Breathing and relaxing methods can be very helpful.

Seeking help

Your condition will depend on whether or not you need to contact your doctor or midwife. Generally, if your pregnancy is at low risk, if you have prodromal labor, you won’t normally have to contact your health care provider.

However, it can be difficult to tell whether the contractions are a result of active labor or prodromal labor. When you have concerns and to rule out other problems, you should still reach out to your health care providers.

If the labor force is involved, the labor force progresses at distinct rates and intensities depending on the individual. Note something fresh and different as you know that your body is evolving and preparing to bring your child into the world.

You may experience several of the Labor symptoms, and it may still be a while before your child arrives. Alternatively, you can break the water and make it within hours.

Confusion may make you anxious, but the typical working period for first-time moms is between 12 and 24 hours until it starts for real. Keep the contact lines open for questions and complaints with your provider. Best of luck to you!

When To Contact Your Doctor

Feeling uncertain about when to get in touch with your doctor or midwife with your questions is normal, but that’s what they are for. Feel free to consult them, even with the smallest issues.

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Keep a list going to carry any non-urgent questions to your next appointment. But err on the side of caution for something that feels vague or overwhelming, or even something significant.

If you feel painful contractions and don’t know if they are the “real thing” or not, make sure to contact your healthcare provider and talk about them.

Moreover, it is definitely time to call if the contractions are accompanied by any of the following other symptoms of labour:

  • Your mucus plug, which resembles a thick, long globe of mucus, has been lost and maybe blood-tinged.
  • You have experienced light bleeding or spotting (any excessive bleeding should be reported to your healthcare provider ASAP).
  • Your water has broken.
  • Diarrhoea or nausea is what you feel.
  • Your contractions have been strong enough to maintain a regular conversation, or pay attention to something else is difficult.
  • Throughout time, the contractions have become more intense, closer together, and longer-lasting.
  • When your baby drops low into your pelvis, you have undergone “lightening,” generally felt as downward pressure and an intensified need for urination. You may also note that you can relax now.

When you call your health care provider to identify any or more of these symptoms, they will help you decide what your next move is, whether to “wait for it”, come in for an examination, or get to your hospital or chosen place of birth quickly.


Although prodromal labor is not the same as active labor, your day-to-day life can be extremely uncomfortable as it has an effect on it. While most prodromal cases of labor last just a few days, some women are undergoing weeks of labor.

During this time, try to rest as best as you can as you need your stamina for active labor.

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Be rest assured that if you don’t notice any of the other tell-tale signs of Labor (usually your health care provider will tell you by just listening to your voice on the phone) and your contractions haven’t changed in duration, you’re still not in Labor. And if you don’t go through prodromal labor, don’t think about it. Not everybody is.


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