I am no expert in this field but I went through a fair bit of early (prodromal) labour at 39 weeks of pregnancy before my little one was ready to face the world.
Those 3.5 days of prodromal labour were by far the most gruelling days of my twenty-nine years of existence. There was physical pain from never-ending contractions that came 8-10 minutes apart, emotional stress of not knowing whether my body could take the toil and prolonged sleep deprivation since it was almost impossible to get any rest through the discomfort.
Not to mention crushing disappointment each time I went to the Childbirth Hospital Emergency Room (ER) only to have my contractions fizzle out during those painful vaginal checks. My cervical dilation consistently failed to meet the cut-off admission criterion of 4cm so I was sent home not once, not twice, but thrice in total.
In spite of the hardship, I found strength and comfort in the accounts I read online about how other mums coped with prodromal labour. I also tried out a few methods that didn't entirely take the agony away but assuaged how I felt and kept my sanity.
So having come out of that exhausting experience, I wanted to share what it felt like, what worked for me in coping with the contractions and pain, and the silver lining of it - in hope that my story would benefit other mamas to be!
What prodromal labour felt like
For me, prodromal labour contractions were noticeably different from Braxton Hicks which were irregular and painless. Prodromal labour contractions increased in frequency and severity, just like "real" labour contractions.
The position of the pain was also different. With prodromal labour, I felt the contractions low where my pelvis is while for Braxton Hicks they were higher in the abdomen area.
How did prodromal labour differ from "real" labour
1\ Prodromal labour, for a fact, did not get me all the way down the happy road to delivery. The first cervical check - I was barely 1cm dilated. The second, ceteris paribus except that I was in stronger pain. The third, 2cm. The three vaginal examinations performed during the time I experienced prodromal labour showed minimal cervical dilation and excruciating slow progress over DAYS. "Real" labour would bring about faster dilation, usually 1cm per hour for first-time mums!
2\ While waiting for the anesthesiologist to administer the epidural, I was dilating from 6 to 8cm and experiencing "real" labour contractions. Those contractions radiated from the back to the front and it felt like my uterus was twisting itself into a vicious knot over and over again. They were definitely much stronger and harder to work through compared to prodromal labour contractions!
3\ During prodromal labour, I was slowly losing my mucus plug which looked like a glob of mucous streaked with pink blood. When I was dilating due to "real" contractions, the bleeding was more profuse, dark red and even clotty!
What worked for me in coping with prodromal labour
1\ I used the same breathing techniques as I did during active labor.
2\ Sitting on a gym ball, moving my hips side to side. I believe this helped baby get lower into position.
3\ Taking a warm (not overly hot) shower to relax.
4\ Plugging my ear phones in and listening to therapeutic, soothing music. I felt calmer and could zone out, like I was in a world of my own.
5\ Having my husband hold me, telling me to breathe in and out, and gripping his arms in the most painful moments. Having spouse support is so important!
6\ Distracting myself through whatsapping fellow mum friends, watching Netflix etc while biding my time.
Pacing myself for a marathon birth
I resisted pain relief drugs until I reached such a chronically sleep-deprived state that I believed I was going mad.
The hospital staff assured me that morphine shots were safe for baby and would not stall or affect labour in any way. Eventually I relented and the brief respite of 3-4 hours enabled me to make it through the next day.
It is believed that baby’s position is what causes prodromal labour and the uterine contractions are hard at work to get baby into the optimal birth position for delivery. This coincided with what the head nurse of my delivery team told me. She said that while my baby was engaged and low, she wasn't facing the right direction so my body was contracting to shift her.
Knowing that while the contractions did not stimulate cervical dilation, the pain was not for naught because they were productive in getting baby to get into position boosted my mental strength. I told myself I could get through this for my baby.
It's so important to get as much rest as you possibly can in this early phase of labour because you need to muster strength and energy for the pushing that lies ahead!
The silver lining
Thanks to days of prodromal labour, I was 100% effaced and dilation was naturally fast once I was admitted into the delivery ward. I didn't require any medication to speed up labour (nor pacing up and down the halls of the hospital delivery wing). In fact, my dilation progressed so smoothly that my delivery team was very sure that I would be delivering within the day I was admitted.
I also had better endurance and tolerance for pain due to days of practice. The nurses remarked that I was really adept at my breathing techniques, which I had spent the past few days honing.
Finally, after days of worrying, struggling and dealing with all that pain, I couldn't wait to get baby out which motivated me with my pushing! I pushed for just half an hour before baby made her entrance into the world!
My advice to any mamas in prodromal labour
If your baby hasn't reached full term of 37 weeks, contact your birth team to make sure you aren't going into premature labour!
Trust your gut to know "it's time". When the prodromal labour transitions into real labour, you not only can't talk through the pain, it takes all your willpower not to crumple to the ground. That is when you should be making your way to the hospital! Don't despair even if you can't be admitted - treat it as a trial run of the real day!
Remember that every woman's body is different and every labour is different. Don't compare your pain to others' seemingly smoother or easier delivery.
Be in touch with your mum tribe during this home stretch of pregnancy. Their concern, support and warm wishes go a long way in keeping you company throughout this tough time.
It would be tempting for the hospital to offer you Pitocin, to induce you for labour in the name of helping your "stalled" labour. But if you firmly want a natural vaginal birth for your baby, by all means refuse the intervention. Unnecessary birth intervention has been known to trigger a cascade of events that may end in an “emergency” C-section.
Finally - keep your eyes on the prize! Labour isn't called "labour" without reason but you'll get to savour the sweet fruit of your labour soon enough. Hang in there!
Read my baby girl's birth story here.
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Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.