You've heard the story: mom says she's in labor, packs the car, and checks into the hospital only to be sent home because she's having "false" labor. She's embarrassed, maybe a bit confused, and probably super discouraged because she's thinking to herself, "but I was having contractions! I know it!"
First of all let's all agree to stop using the term "false labor," mmmkay? Thanks. Because the thing is there's nothing false about it to that mama. When you're a woman who's quite likely ready to not be pregnant anymore and has been having some sort of contractions (perhaps for days or weeks) the last thing you want to hear is that what you're experiencing isn't real.
What this mama is experiencing is more properly termed "prodromal labor" and it's very easily mistaken for progressive labor. Family and support people should be aware that prodromal labor can be exhausting for a woman both physically and mentally. Sometimes these prodromal contractions are regular enough (though probably mild) that she has trouble sleeping and, especially if the pattern continues for days or weeks, mamas can become anxious and frustrated.
Below are some tips to help you understand prodromal labor and what helps in getting through it:
What prodromal labor looks like:
- Contractions tend to be erratic/irregular or stagnant in their frequency. They're usually mild and though they can be punctuated by more painful contractions, don't strengthen overall.
- They'll also often stop if you change position or activity.
- You often feel them in your abdomen only.
What progressive labor looks like:
- Contractions come at a regular interval and get closer together, stronger in intensity, and longer in duration.
- Even if you change position or activity, they will continue and progress.
- You often feel them "radiating" from your back to your front
- True labor might also come with bloody show, the loss of your mucus plug, and/or the breaking or leaking of your waters.
What your body is doing during prodromal labor:
It's easy to get discouraged and frustrated at the stop-and-start pattern of prodromal labor. But even though it may not be leading to the imminent birth of your baby it is making progress for your body:
- The cervix is thinning, softening, and moving forward
- Your baby may "drop" into your pelvis
What you can do:
- Before it begins: it's thought that baby's position may contribute to prodromal labor, with posterior babies being especially linked to a prodromal pattern. Sit on a birth ball, walk, and watch your posture to encourage your baby to get into the optimal position for birth.
- While it's happening:
- don't worry too much about whether or not this is true labor or timing your contractions. True, progressive labor makes itself known :)
- Eat, drink, and rest as much as you can
- Distract yourself with good supportive company and activities you enjoy. Try yoga for calming your mind, a nice dinner, calling a friend or doula to talk it out, or treating yourself to a massage or warm bath
Hang in there and try to be patient (easier said than done, we know!). Remind yourself that this is all part of your body and baby getting ready to birth.