Prodromal labor is a term used in the birth industry to describe labor that begins at the 37th week of gestation, or earlier. It is also sometimes called false labor and is characterized by the presence of labor-like symptoms, such as contractions, but without cervical change and does not involve any real labor progression. The contractions can be mild to strong and may be irregular or regular, and they come and go for a time before stopping.
There are other terms similar to prodromal labor used in the birth industry such as:
- Premature labor
- Braxton Hicks Contractions
- Active labor
These terms can be confusing, so it is important to understand the differences between them.
This image shows how often the term ‘Prodromal Labor’ is used in relation to other, similar birth terms:
Prodromal Labor vs. Premature Labor
Prodromal labor is similar to premature labor in the sense that they are both labor-like symptoms that occur before the 37th week of gestation, but they are different in that prodromal labor does not involve any real labor progression, while premature labor involves actual labor contractions that can lead to preterm delivery. Premature labor is also diagnosed by changes in the cervix, such as effacement (thinning)
Prodromal Labor vs. Braxton Hicks Contractions
There is a lot of overlap between prodromal labor and Braxton Hicks contractions, which are contractions that occur throughout pregnancy and are generally considered to be normal. However, Braxton Hicks contractions usually don’t cause discomfort or pain and they usually stop when the woman changes position or drinks. Moreover, Braxton Hicks contractions are not associated with any changes in the cervix.
Prodromal labor is different from Braxton Hicks contractions because prodromal labor contractions are regular and cause discomfort, and they are also associated with changes in the cervix.
Prodromal Labor vs. Active Labor
While prodromal labor can also sometimes be intense and can sometimes result in cervical dilation and effacement, active labor is considered more serious because this stage is usually accompanied by strong contractions that come regularly, increase in intensity and frequency, and lasts for hours or even days. Active Labor is the term used for real labor that begins after the cervix has dilated to at least 3 cm and effaced (thinned out), and are usually accompanied by other signs of labor, such as rupture of the membranes (water breaking) or change in the baby’s position.
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