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If Your Labor Drags. . .

Prodromal Labor

adapted in part from The Birth Book by William and Martha Sears

In a classic labor the woman notices the progressive nature of the frequency and intensity of her contractions. But there are some early labors that drag. Often referred to as prodromal labor, this is actually a day-long (or more) prelude to active labor. It is almost like another phase of labor for some women, especially first-timers. Prodromal labor may be considered as a very drawn-out early or “latent” phase (although there is nothing latent about the mother’s experience) that slowly effaces the cervix over two or three days. Prodromal labor is not only difficult to interpret, but also difficult to endure - physically and emotionally. The contractions characteristically drag on with little or no acceleration in their frequency or intensity and very little or no cervical dilation. An example of prodromal labor would be a woman having contractions every 8-10 minutes for three full days during which her cervix effaces to 75% but dilates only 1 or 2 centimeters. The contractions are usually not overwhelmingly painful, but they are strong enough to keep the woman awake and in need of some comfort measures. The greatest difficulty with this kind of labor is the exhaustion and discouragement that a woman may feel. This can snowball into making mild contractions seem strong and the prospect of dealing with the “real” labor yet to come seem overwhelming.

A couple may find it difficult to make wise choices when labor is not progressing the way classes and books say it should. They may become alarmed by how long it is taking or worry that the woman’s body is malfunctioning. They realize that by the guidelines given to them of when to go to the hospital, it is not time yet. But after contractions have been present for so long, they lose confidence at home and figure somebody better do something. This can set them up for a snowballing of interventions.

Here are some suggestions for dealing with this type of early labor:

* Get some sleep. Try a warm bath, a glass of wine or vodka, or even an oral sedative. When you wake up the contractions will be less intense or you will awaken to more intense contractions, rested and ready to cope. Sleep is a lingering labor’s best friend.

* Explore any possible psychological barriers or fears that may subconsciously be holding you back.

* Coffee is a uterine stimulant; an enema or a dose of castor oil can stimulate the bowels and the uterus. Oxytocin is also stimulated by kissing, cuddling, and nipple stimulation.

* Don’t run out of fuel- continue eating and drinking, nibbling and sipping.

* Be patient.

* Know that even if there is a physical reason, such as the size or position of the baby, this is all the more reason why the baby needs undisturbed time to negotiate it’s way.

These signs may require medical attention: Decreased fetal movement, hard uterus even between contractions, excessive bleeding, discolored fluid from vagina. 

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