Pre-labour is a topic that has come up recently with some of the women I have cared for. In particular, women have asked what the difference is between pre-labour and labour itself. I'll start by saying that pre-labour has many names: false labour, early labour, practice labour and prodromal labour. I like the terms pre-labour or practice best as they describe the phase of labour (ie, before labour starts) and the purpose (practice for labour).
Many women experience pre-labour, but not all women will experience it. For women women, the very first contraction is the start of active labour and from that point, their baby arrives very soon. However, for most women, a period of contractions occurs as the body warms up for labour and as the baby shifts into a more favourable position for birthing.
Practice labour can last a while. Several hours, several days, even a couple of weeks.
It is characterised by contractions that are irregular in frequency, intensity and duration. This means that there is no pattern to the contractions that persist for more than an hour. Some contractions will be long, while others will be short; some will be quite intense while others will be very mild; and some till come close together while others will be spaced apart.
They can feel like strong Braxton Hicks contractions or strong period pain.
They may also become more apparent when you are active, and die down when you rest.
When labour starts, there will be a regular pattern to the contractions and they will not be affected by your level of activity.
In terms of your body, practice labour is the time when your baby is moving to an optimal position for birth and it is a time when your cervix is softening, thinning and opening a little. So we bring respect to this process, understanding that it is the key to a healthy start to labour.
Melissa Maimann is an eligible midwife in private practice in Sydney. One of the first eligible midwives in Australia, Melissa offers a range of care options for women. Visit Melissa's website to learn more about her services.