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The Strange Liminal Space of Prodromal Labor

Prodromal labor can be strange and confusing. Here's what to look for and how to help.

The final days of pregnancy can be a lot of hurry up and wait. Mom’s body may start to signal the baby is getting ready to arrive, but sometimes it’s tough to determine exactly where she is in the labor process. Between pre-labor and heading to the hospital for active labor, she may have a period of prodromal labor where it’s a good idea for expecting fathers to pay attention to what she needs and help get things ready for the trip to the hospital.

What Is Prodromal Labor?

Prodromal labor is a series of contractions that help prepare the body for actual labor. Labor is often described as happening in stages, and it’s helpful to consider these stages a spectrum that women progress through differently in duration and intensity. During the prodromal phase, contractions tend to be five to ten minutes apart and can last for hours or potentially days. While contractions during prodromal labor aren’t strong enough to curtail daily activities, they are definitely noticeable. 

What Can We Do to Speed Up Labor?

One thing is for sure, the body and baby can’t be hurried along. They do sometimes respond to encouragement, however. Dr. Vonne Jones, a board-certified OB/GYN providing care to women at Total Women’s Care in Houston, encourages patients to be as active as possible when prodromal contractions start. “Get out and about by walking around the neighborhood or on a track,” she advises.

Depending on how mom feels, ‘doctors’ orders’ may also call for some romance. Dr. Peace Nwegbo-Banks, who practices medicine at Serenity Women’s Health and Med Spa in Pearland, TX, explains that sperm is high in prostaglandin,  a hormone-like substance that may help things get moving. 

“Intercourse to completion for Dad can ripen the cervix increasing prostaglandin activity,” he says.

When Should a Laboring Mom Head to the Hospital?

Dr. Jones encourages patients to remember the 2-3-2 model for heading to the hospital. “If a patient is having consistent contractions every 2-3 minutes for 2 hours or more that have not improved with water, rest, or a warm bath, then it’s probably time,” she says.

During this time it’s also a good idea to be aware of any visual signs that the hospital is the appropriate environment to continue laboring, such as having heavy bleeding or consistent leakage of fluid that is saturating pads. And when in doubt, don’t be afraid to update your doctor and get their feedback. “You can always reach out to your provider if you are having consistent contractions and you are not sure what to do,” Dr. Jones says.

What Can I Do to Support a Mom in Prodromal Labor?

The first step is to listen to what mom wants. “Being there and being supportive is so important! Basically, be at her beck and call,” encourages Dr. Jones. “Give mom whatever she needs to stay calm. Help her breathe through her contractions, massage her back, and have ice chips or a cool towel to apply to her face.”

In your eagerness to help, make sure you aren’t overdoing it. Dr. Nwegbo-Banks has seen patients who desire a less-is-more approach from others. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t helping. “Encourage her to rest and keep hydrated. And if she wants to be left alone, that’s okay too,” she notes. The last thing you want to do is wear her out by forcing her to manage you.

You can help mom by going into the final weeks of pregnancy educated and prepared, but don’t forget that flexibility is essential. How she feels physically and emotionally can fluctuate throughout the last days of labor, and the best thing you can do is support her however she finds helpful.