Updated: Feb 14
It's so interesting, isn't it, how the pregnancy books we read outline "normal" labor, i.e. that elusive 12 hour labor that progresses easily and steadily. Ask a random sampling of your recently pregnant friends if they would consider their labor normal, either in length or in how it began or how it unfolded. Go ahead, I dare ya! Chances are, their answers are no. If your labor starts out like my doula client's labor has started out, I have some advice for you.
I'll call her Lexie. Lexie began having contractions, 10 minutes apart, and I advised her to get some rest since the clock was approaching 10:30p. "You'll never get as much rest as you will *right now!!*" I told her. She and her husband had taken my Birthing From Within childbirth ed series and they know that I'm a major sleep pusher. So we all went to sleep for the night, except when we checked in in the morning it turns out she hadn't gotten much sleep at all. She was up all night long with contractions that had gotten super long...like 3-5 minutes long, as in, the contraction lasted a whole 5 minutes.
Is that normal? Wellll, it's happening, so it's normal. You know what I mean? It can be "normal" but perhaps not "ideal," at the same time. It's not what the books outline, it's not easy to get through, and it can be indicative of something that requires attention. Lexie had already spoken to her midwife who assessed the situation medically and determined this to be prodromal labor. As her doula, I was more concerned with Lexie's comfort and mental state; contraction patterns like that are HARD! Why might a labor pattern progress in this way? Two words: WONKY POSITION
Sometimes if baby is in a "wonky position" OR if baby is having a hard time getting into the brim of the pelvis, contractions will get super long. It's as if the uterus is working double time to contract baby into a better position, or into the brim of the pelvis. Baby and body really want labor to start, but need a little bit of help. I immediately suggested side-lying releases on each side for the duration of a contraction, as well as an inversion (www.spinningbabies.com). These moves help balance out the body and provide a stretch in the round ligaments in the front of the pelvis, which can allow baby more room to maneuver into a better position. Lexie reported that her contractions shortened down to 30-90 seconds as a result, (Yesss! That's a huge success! Not only did the exercises prove effective, but also 90 second contractions are much more bearable than five minute contractions!) but she was still having some very long ones thrown into the mix.
My next suggestion was for the Walcher's position. This one is also outlined on the Spinning Babies website and is a difficult one to get into and to sustain but can be a game changer. (For you curious birds, go to the Spinning Babies site for pictures and instructions.) Walcher's can help shape shift the pelvis to allow baby to move under the pubic bone and into the brim of the pelvis, so baby's head can do the work of putting pressure on the cervix to help dilate the cervix. For prodromal labor,this is the secret nobody is talking about! Lexie dutifully tried this position for a contraction or two and decided she then would try to get some rest again for the night, as her contractions were 10 minutes apart again and a bearable 90 seconds long. At her midwife's suggestion, she took a Tylenol PM and laid down.
I was in no way surprised when I got "the call" just 3 hours later that labor took off, contractions were 4-6 minutes apart and she was ready...NOW...for her doula and midwife. Yessss! Walcher's for the win! (Bear in mind that she had been contracting now for over 24 hours. Walcher's was an absolute game changer.) Her contractions remained at 60-90-ish seconds until baby arrived early in the morning.
So back to those 5 minute long contractions. They can be "normal" but not necessarily common and they definitely require some attention. If contractions like these become part of your labor pattern, try the suggestions above. You might be surprised at how effectively you can influence your own labor.
Prodromal labor can be really confusing when you're the laboring mother going through it. If you need some support, a doula can be priceless in the moment. You never need a doula until you NEED a DOULA. Plan ahead for your birth! Check out my doula packages which include the option of using me as your "Distance Doula." I'm happy to provide you with my experience, guidance and suggestions even if your first contact with me is during your birth. You'll get unlimited phone, text and email support and resources! I've been trained not only as a Certified Doula for over 60 births but also a Certified Birth Mentor with Birthing From Within having mentored more than 90 couples, and also have been trained by Gail Tully, creator of Spinning Babies.
Did your labor begin as prodromal labor? Ever tried any Spinning Babies moves? Leave a comment, it may just help out another birthing mom!
My doula best,
P.S. Check out this these tips for double-peaking contractions to find out if they are normal and what to do about them.
Christine Ghali is a Certified Doula and Childbirth Educator with Birthing From Within for the past decade. She's the owner of Mindful Birth Services and Doula Care and sits on the Board of Directors for Birthing From Within International and Heritage School of Midwifery in North Port, FL. After 8 years as a solo doula on her own, she began guiding parents with her creation of the Mindful Birth Doulas since 2018 and would love to guide you in your birth preparation, too. When she's not mentoring her doulas and pregnant parents, you'll find her with her three kids (15, 12 and 5 years old) or working on nailing her first handstand.