Prelabor - Getting Started

The characteristic that identifies each stage of labor is the type of contractions inherent in that particular stage.

In the first stage of labor each contraction causes a slight shortening of the uterine muscles, decreasing the size of the uterine space as they pull the cervix up into the lower part of the uterus. In this action baby is pushed downward and out of the vagina into the world.

Waves of contractions that start at the top of the uterus radiate down the uterus to the cervix. At the same time, the cervix is being pulled up into the bottom of the uterus and baby is being squeezed out of the womb.

First Stage Contractions are Not Prelabor

Every woman is unique and will have unique patterns to her labor. Early and active first stage contractions are most commonly described as pains that come every 2,3,4 or 5 minutes apart, usually lasting longer than 40 seconds, sometimes up to 70 seconds each time.

Contractions are timed from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next one and the length of the contraction is timed from the beginning of the contraction through the end of that contraction.

Prelabor contractions, unlike first stage contractions, are usually further apart than two to five minutes and are either very short or very long, and they can be erratic.

Prelabor Contractions are Before Established First Stage Labor

Prelabor contractions are just that - prelabor. They occur before first stage labor really kicks in and they can start a day or two before established labor, or they can start two or three weeks before. Prelabor contractions may arrive and present in a variety of ways.

· They can begin with regular contractions spaced 10, 15 or 30 minutes apart and last for 20 to 40 seconds. A pattern may develop as the contractions become stronger, longer and closer together over time until first stage labor is identified.

· They can be strong contractions lasting 20 to 30 seconds coming at five minute intervals. This might happen in the morning upon rising or late at night. They can last an hour or two then stop. This can go on for days or it can stop for a few days and then start again.

· They can come in a variety of patterns when the day is done or when it is time to sleep. Sometimes the contractions are quite strong and some women use a hot water bottle or a warm bath to ease the pain. Most women end up finally falling asleep only to wake up to find their belly still there.

· They can be a two or three minute long period-type cramp that continues for days over a two to three week period. Or, they can be a dull ache in the lower belly, upper thighs and lower back - or just the lower back.

· They can come in a series of painful contractions with no particular rhythm to them; coming at 3,5,7,10,15,30 minutes apart at different times, lasting 20, 40, 60, or more seconds - going on around the clock for a few days making sleeping an exercise in futility.

· They can be painful, but not painful enough to make working impossible.

· They can be so slight they are hardly noticeable. It's possible to sleep through them and they can be confused with late pregnancy signs of discomfort.

· Or - they may not start at all.

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