Stages of Labor: Prelabor
In prelabor, also sometimes called prodromal labor, a woman begins having contractions that seem similar to cramps she may experience during her menstrual cycle. She may think she is in “real” labor. I put quotes around “real” because this is a very real part of labor but it is not active labor that lets you know your baby will be arriving very soon. However, some women never even notice this stage.
Signs of Prelabor
Prelabor is a time of fairly regular contractions that are getting your uterus ready for the real action. It is essentially like warming up before a marathon. The contractions may be regular, strong, and even pretty close together (around five to eight minutes apart). This may go on for several hours and then stop. You know this is prelabor because the contractions never progress by becoming longer, stronger, and closer together. Prelabor can go on for a week or more.
During prelabor, the cervix is softening and moving forward. The cervix may also dilate up to two centimeters.
The mother may also experience pain in her groin, menstrual cramp like sensations, lower back pain, and increased pressure in the pelvis and rectum. This is especially more frequent in mothers who have given birth in the past. She may loose her mucus plug up to a week before true labor begins.
Bloody show is another sign of being in prelabor. This is cause by the cervix thinning and dilating. The tiny blood vessels in the cervix may rupture and you may see a little streak of blood or a pink tint when you wipe. Do not become alarmed. This typically means you will be going into true labor in the next twenty-four hours. If you experience more blood than just a very slight amount, be sure to call your care provider.
Other signs of prelabor include feeling nauseas, having diarrhea or loose/soft bowel movements, and vaginal discharge. You may also notice a sudden increase in your energy and a desire to clean your house. Just be careful to make sure you do not over do it.
Emotions of Prelabor
Emotionally, you may be experiencing many different things; some may even seem contradictory. You may be confused not being sure whether you are in real labor or not. Feeling torn as to whether you need to alert your birth team and family or if you are just over reacting is common. You will likely be excited knowing it won’t be too much longer before you will be holding your baby in your arms. You may also be happy to know pregnancy is almost over but a little sad to know you will not be feeling your baby inside of you much longer. Fear is very common, especially if labor has started sooner than expected or if the contractions seem stronger or more intense than you expected. You may also overreact or feel like you don’t know how you are actually feeling. Your hormones are changing to get your body ready for labor and birth. These hormones can cause you to be conflicted in your emotions and feel them even more intensely.
If prelabor goes on for many days or weeks, you may start to feel frustrated, doubt your body’s ability, discouraged, fatigued from lack of sleep, and anxious as to what will happen and if you will be able to endure throughout the whole labor and birth process. These are real and completely understandable emotions. My encouragement in this is that every step, every contraction is one step closer to your baby. It also often helps mothers to hear that many who report long prelabor/prodromal labor often have much faster true labor.
What the Caregiver Does in Prelabor
It is a good idea to check in with your birth team/caregiver when you believe you are in prelabor. Depending on where the care provider believes you may be, he/she may advise you to stay home, come into their office, or go to the place of birth to be checked out. He/She may suggest taking a warm bath, taking some over the counter medication like Benadryl, drink water, eat, or be given medications in the hospital to help you rest and get some sleep. The care provider may also suggest induction or breaking your water (artificial rupture of the membranes, AROM).
What You Can Do in Prelabor
Prelabor is not a medical problem but since it can go on for a long time, it can become frustrating at times. Make sure you get plenty to eat and drink. You may feel like you have a lot of energy but don’t over do it. Try to get as much rest as you can. Take warm baths and practice relaxing through contractions…a skill you will need in active labor.
Do projects or activities with your husband, a friend, or family member to get your mind off the contractions.
- Prepare/cook some freezer meals
- Make sure your birth bag is packed or you have all the supplies needed if you are having a home birth
- Make sure your phone is charged and your camera is prepped
- Finalize your playlist
- Check in with your birth team
- Go for a walk
- Get a massage
- Get a chiropractic adjustment
- Go to the movies or rent some movies
- Play video or board games
- Go shopping
- Sort through your computer files and photos
- Write a letter to your baby
- Read a book with another person
- Collect some encouraging affirmations and prayers
- Take a bath
- Have sex (it can help speed things up)
- Wash laundry
Prelabor will be a time of great excitement but can also become frustrating. It is easy to say “relax” or “don’t get frustrated” but it is much more difficult in practice. Just keep reminding yourself that even if this stage lasts longer than you would like, it does not last forever and you are one more minute closer to holding you baby in your arms.
This article is part of a series on the stages of labor. If you are interested in other articles related to this subject, you may find them on my Stages of Labor Resource Page.
If you are in the Denton, TX area and are interested in hiring a doula for your birth experience, contact me today to schedule a free consultation. If you enjoyed this article, you may be interested in checking out my Comfort Measures in Labor page.