How Long Does Prodromal Labor Last? Birth Terminology Explained

There is so many terms thrown around when you become pregnant. In this “Terminology Explained” series, we help make understanding them easier.

Today’s term is prodromal labor.

What is Prodromal Labor? 

Official Definition: Prodromal labor is a normal part of labor, before active labor, where contractions start and stop, even developing into noticeable patterns, but do not progress into labor. Prodromal labor can occur hours, days, or even weeks before active labor begins. It’s often referred to as “false labor,” though this isn’t a great description — the contractions are real, but they come and go without developing into active labor.

Prodromal labor contractions are more intense than Braxton-Hicks contractions and feel similar to early and even active labor contractions. The difference is, they do not move labor forward — they don’t increase in intensity, regularity, and are not strong enough to continue dilating or effacing the cervix (though they can cause minimal changes). 

Prodromal labor can last for 1 to 3 days, or longer. First time parents may experience prodromal labor less and for less time than people who have given birth before. 

Prodromal labor is normal and not a cause for concern. If you believe you’re experiencing prodromal labor, it’s still helpful and important to let your OB or midwife know, even if you aren’t ready to go into the hospital or birth center. Your care provider can help you assess what’s happening. In general, once your contractions begin happening regularly at less than 5 minutes apart, lasting for longer than one minute each, and continuing like this for longer than an hour, you may be transitioning into active labor and should notify your caregiver. Most people can labor safely at home for some time in active labor. 

When you will hear/see the term used? Medical care providers, childbirth educators, doulas, other parents all may talk about prodromal labor, though you may hear the term “false labor” used in its place more frequently. You may learn first-hand about prodromal labor if you are one of the many people who experience a “false alarm” during which you prepare to go or go to your place of birth / hospital only to discover that you have not progressed in dilation or effacement and are not in a pattern of active labor. 

Why is it important/beneficial? Understanding prodromal labor means you’ll be better prepared to spot the difference between this stage of early labor and active labor, which will help you decide when to relocate to your chosen place of birth. That said, even more experienced parents can sometimes be “fooled” by prodromal labor. Never hesitate to reach out to your care providers with any concern or question, including prodromal labor. 

For more information about all stages of labor and how to prepare, take a quality childbirth class series, like the classes taught by Lamaze educators. Find one that’s right for you! 

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