Sleep When the... Contractions Sleep?

June 20, 2018

NOTHING is as fun as being 40 weeks pregnant, ready to have had that baby, like, yesterday, and it seems like there might be no end in sight (there is, though, we promise!)! Add on top of that confusing on-again, off-again contractions, and you might feel like you haven't had a relationship this complicated since dating in college.

Here's the deal: labor is rarely a cut and dry situation. There are so many variations of normal, it can be hard to keep up! And having contractions that start with a vengeance and stop abruptly toward the end of pregnancy is par for the course sometimes. For some women, it's just annoying tightening that you may have been feeling for a while: those Braxton Hicks. Other women may actually experience prodromal labor, which is just a fancy term for full-blown contractions that may actually be "doing something" to make you progress, but then go away before progressing to actually having a baby. Sounds frustrating right?

What You Might Be Tempted to Do In Early or Prodromal Labor

When you are close to your due date, or past it, it can be SO TEMPTING to try to get those contractions going even stronger. You might wake up in the middle of the night, unable to get comfy through each contraction, and find yourself up and about obsessively timing each contraction and willing them to get into a strong enough pattern to send you to the hospital. During the day, instead of going about normal life, and trying all those positions you just found on Google to try to get labor going (long walks followed by lunges anyone?)

If or when the contractions slow down and stop again, you may be exhausted. Physically, and emotionally too.

Here's the thing about early labor, and prodromal labor. It can sometimes be hard work! It can sometimes take a lot of mental and physical energy to get through. Keep in mind, though, that active labor, the part that progresses and brings that sweet baby into your arms finally, is also hard work. Hard work that you need to have conserved some energy for. Spending all of your mental and physical energy in early labor will mean there is that much less of a reserve for later on.

Sleep When the Contractions Sleep

We often tell our birth doula clients: you can't chase labor down. You have to let it come to you, and sometimes it feels like such a tease! Your body and your baby are both smart: if your contractions slow down or stop completely after a bit, it just means that right now it needs rest and sleep more than it needs to have a baby right now. After all, sleep is more than just a nice thing. It actually can influence your body's ability to regulate the hormones that are necessary for labor to progress smoothly! So while it might be tempting to try anything and everything to keep your contractions going or to make them stronger, try this instead:

  1. Drink a big glass of water (make sure you are staying hydrated, as that can influence uterine contractions too.
  2. During the day, try to stay distracted, and balance activity with rest. Whether that is going to work, going on a walk, finding a project to engage in, hitting up your regular yoga studio or the swimming pool, or going to your favorite lunch spot and catching a matinee: try to have fun, and not focus too much on the contractions. The goal here is to keep your mental energy from getting drained by doing things you enjoy, and that keep you from focusing too much on the contractions until you can't not pay attention anymore.
  3. During the night, do NOT turn all of the lights and start timing things. Change position. Try the Rest Smart position, or a variation of hands and knees with a carefully arranged nest of pillows to support your body weight. If you still can't fall back asleep between contractions, try a warm shower or bath, with the lights low. Play some calming music, or try a body relaxation meditation, or crack a book. Whatever will help your body at least get some rest in between, and maybe help you drift off eventually.
  4. If it gets to be too difficult to sleep, sometimes your doctor or midwife can recommend a Tylenol PM or Benadryl to help take the edge off, and send you off to sleep (definitely call them first).
  5. Make sure that if the contractions do slow or stop, that you catch a nap when you can, whether it's day or night! It's not uncommon to have prodromal labor at night, which goes away when the sun comes up (frustrating, we know!) In that case, try to carve out a few hours of your day to catch some solid sleep while the contractions sleep too.

Have you experienced prodromal labor, or start and stop labor? What tips would you add? We would love to hear from you about your experience too!