HPV Vaccine: What You Need to Know

The human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine is a critical addition to your immunization options. This particular vaccine protects you against certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). But because of the strains it targets, HPV vaccines will also protect you from some cervical cancers (as well as a few other cancers). 

In other words, the HPV vaccine can protect you against specific sexually transmitted infections and against the cancers that those infections sometimes generate. Unfortunately, HPV is exceptionally common, infecting about 13 million per year. According to one CDC survey, 45.2% of adults aged 18-59 had contracted genital HPV–including the high-risk versions of this disease. Not surprisingly, then, most providers recommend that you administer the first of two HPV vaccine doses as soon as possible after the age of 11.

Why Should You Get the HPV Vaccine?

The HPV is quite common in the United States–and it’s likely that just about everyone will end up with some form of this virus throughout their lifetimes. In many cases, those with HPV will not notice or present any symptoms. The virus is generally spread from skin-to-skin contact–and something like 42 million Americans are currently infected.

While many forms of HPV are relatively harmless, there are some specific strains that can go on to cause cancer. For women in particular, HPV has been linked to cervical cancer. In fact, HPV origins account for 91% of all cervical cancers.

HPV vaccines can successfully prevent these cancers, as well as the spread of the HPV strains that cause those cancers in the first place. This can give many individuals a significant amount of peace of mind and protection.

When Should You Get the HPV Vaccine?

In some ways, you’re never too old to get the HPV vaccine. However, there are some caveats to that. The ideal age to get an HPV vaccine is between the ages of 11-12. It’s recommended that anyone age 26 or under also get the vaccine. 

The vaccine is still approved for those between the ages of 26-45. However, it’s not always recommended. That’s because many people over that age have already contracted some strains of HPV, making the vaccine less effective. This can diminish the benefit of the HPV vaccine–but it doesn’t mean that there are no benefits. So, if you’re over the age of 26, you should talk to your OBGYN or Midwife about whether the HPV vaccine is right for you.

Dosing will increase as you get older. Here’s how that breaks down:

  • Ages 9-14: This age group responds well to a two-dose schedule.
  • Ages 15-26: This age group will require a three-dose vaccine schedule. 

Typically, doses are scheduled at least six months apart. While the first dose does provide a significant amount of protection, the full scheduled doses are needed to ensure maximum effectiveness.

Who Should Get the HPV Vaccine?

Many patients have questions about who should get the HPV vaccine and why. Here are some of the most common:

  • Should men and women receive the HPV Vaccine? Yes. The HPV vaccine can prevent some cancers in men, too (i.e. penile, anal and throat). Additionally, the more individuals who are vaccinated, the less these versions of HPV are able to spread.
  • Should I get the vaccine even if I have tested positive for cervical cancer DNA? Yes. Even if you have tested positive for cervical cancer DNA, the HPV vaccine can still prove beneficial and protective against other HPV types. 
  • Do I need to start all over if I miss a dose of HPV vaccine? Nope! You can pick right up where you left off.

Concerns and Questions Regarding HPV Vaccines

There are several concerns patients have regarding HPV vaccines. Some of the most common are the following:

Is HPV the Same Disease as Herpes?

The disease commonly known as herpes is caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), and it’s often conflated with HPV. That’s because there are multiple strains of each disease, and many strains cause sores. However, HPV and HSV are two different viruses. The HPV vaccine does not offer any protection against the herpes virus.

Does the HPV Vaccine Lead to an Increase in Sexual Activity?

Some people have expressed a concern that giving a young individual the HPV vaccine might encourage carelessness regarding sexual activity and safe sex. However, study after study has found no evidence to support this claim. Instead, providing kids (and adults) with the HPV vaccine simply leads to a decrease in HPV and types of cancer.

What Are the Side Effects of the HPV Vaccine?

Like any medication, the HPV vaccine may produce some side effects in a small portion of the population. Those side effects may include:

  • Swelling, redness, or pain near the injection site.
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness or fainting (though, this is more common in adolescents)

If you have questions or concerns about the possible complications from HPV vaccine, talk to your OBGYN or Midwife to get personalized answers. For the vast majority of people, the HPV vaccine is incredibly safe and effective.

Does the HPV Vaccine Mean I Don’t Have to Get a Pap Smear?

A pap smear is a routine test designed to check for the first signs of cervical cancer (or the cellular changes that lead to cervical cancer). So you might be inclined to think that after an HPV vaccine, you won’t need a pap smear anymore. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely true.

While the HPV vaccine will prevent the majority of cervical cancers, it won’t prevent all of them. As a result, your OBGYN or Midwife will still want to catch any possible cervical cancer as early in the process as possible. This means that even after your HPV vaccine, a regular pap smear will still be recommended.

How Successful is the HPV Vaccine?

Among women who have received the HPV vaccine, over 80% have seen a drop in genital warts as well as an 80% drop in cervical cancers. That’s a significant amount of protection–and the rates of protection tend to increase as the vaccination age gets younger.

That’s not because the vaccine loses potency as you age. It’s because as you age, you’re more likely to have already encountered the human papillomavirus. That’s why, for many patients, the earlier you can receive the vaccine the better. 

The HPV Vaccines Offers Significant Protection

Because the human papillomavirus is so common–often transmitted with no symptoms–your best line of defense is to prevent transmission in the first place. While the HPV vaccine will not prevent all strains of HPV, it can prevent those most likely to cause cancer in the future.

In terms of protecting your overall health, the HPV vaccine can produce impressively successful results. To find out more about how the HPV vaccine can impact you and your health, talk to your OBGYN or Midwife.

To schedule an appointment, contact our Wilmette or Glenview locations.


Aging and Sexuality

More than 50% of people over the age of 70 are sexually active. While sexual activity will change as you age, the desire for closeness and intimacy will likely remain strong. Talking with your OBGYN or Midwife about aging and sexuality can help you know what to expect as you grow older and how you can maintain your sexual health at any age. 

There’s an especially common misconception that the desire for sex and intimacy in women wanes as they age. But recent studies have found that this isn’t necessarily the case. True, your sex life may not be the same at 50 as it was at 20–but those differences can be enriching and fulfilling.

In those cases where physiological causes diminish your enjoyment of sex, be sure to talk to your OBGYN or Midwife about possible solutions.

What Aging and Sexuality Look Like?

One of the most common misconceptions regarding sexuality and aging is that every change is negative. The reality is that many people discover greater intimacy and satisfaction with age. But it’s also true that many people aren’t necessarily sure what to expect. Just as aging impacts everyone’s general health uniquely, aging and sexuality will look different for everyone.

For most, the primary concerns revolve around physiological changes that may interfere with your ability to become intimate. This could involve hormone changes that diminish your ability to enjoy sex, for example. But most couples can still find ways to be intimate and close to each other; it may simply look a little bit different than it used to. At the same time, your OBGYN or Midwife may be able to offer solutions that help improve your sexual health.

In many ways, the way that “most” women respond to sexuality and aging doesn’t matter. What’s important to you is how you as an individual respond to aging and sex–especially in terms of how you envision expression your sexuality in the future and how important your sexual health is to you.

Normal Changes in Sex for Women as They Age

For most women, there are two primary changes that occur which can make the enjoyment and expression of your sexuality more challenging:

  • Changes in the vagina: It’s not uncommon for the vagina to grow shorter as you age. Additionally, the vaginal walls can become thinner and more rigid. This can lead to some discomfort during sex.
  • Lower estrogen levels: As women become premenopausal, their hormone levels change. In most cases, this leads to a drop in estrogen production. This can impact many aspects of your life. But in terms of sexuality, a drop in estrogen levels may mean it’s more difficult to achieve sexual arousal. Vaginal dryness may also be an issue.

These changes can make sexual intercourse painful for many women. There are several possible solutions, including medications. Some couples may also avoid penetration and find other ways to express their intimacy.

There are other changes you can expect that are related to general aging. Issues such as arthritis or chronic pain can simply make moving around more challenging. Certain aspects of sex may be less fun when your hands or hips are in pain! As a result, it’s important to find sexual expressions that feel good and bring you enjoyment.

Conditions and Medications That Can Impact Your Sexual Health

In general, anything that impacts your overall health will likely influence your sexual health as well. Conditions ranging from high blood pressure to diabetes to simple hormonal changes can all impact your sexual wellbeing. 

You’ll want to talk to your OBGYN or Midwife about ways you can stay healthy enough for sexual activity. For some, that may mean focusing on maintaining a balanced lifestyle, including eating well and exercising regularly. In other cases, your OBGYN or Midwife may suggest medications.

Medications That Can Impact Sexuality as You Age

Of course, there are also medications which can negatively impact your sexual desire. Many anti-depressants, for example, have been known to diminish the desire for sexual activity. 

If you have concerns that your medication is interfering with your sexual desire, you should talk to your OBGYN or Midwife. It’s possible that you may be able to find a solution that treats your condition and does not impede your sexual health.

It’s also important to note that some medications can have the opposite impact–increasing your desire for sex. For example, estrogen prescriptions for perimenopause have been shown to increase sexual desire.

Medical Situations That Impact Sexual Health

There may also be some medical and healthcare-related issues that can impact your sexual wellness. Those could include:

  • Surgery: When you undergo surgery, your body will likely require time to heal. Sexual activity may not be top-of-mind during recovery–and any procedure that impacts the hips or nervous system may amplify that effect. However, with rest and recovery your sexual desire will usually return.
  • Your partner becomes ill: Many sexual activities require a partner. So, when your partner experiences illness or disease, that can put a damper on things. First, you’re worried about your partner. Second, you may find yourself taking on a caregiver role (which can diminish desire). Additionally, your partner may experience pain and discomfort, which can interfere with sexual desire in both parties. The key to rebuilding sexual intimacy is to communicate about what’s needed and perhaps brainstorm other ways to be close.

Communication is Critical

Aging is a series of changes, both for you and for your partner. Maintaining an enriching sex life depends on open and honest communication as you age. This is, of course, true at any age. But it’s especially relevant when it comes to aging and sexuality.

Here are some things you should consider communicating about:

  • Differences in desire: If you and your partner experience differences in desire, it’s important to discuss those. These conversations can feel a little tricky, so don’t hesitate to use plenty of “I feel” statements. 
  • New ways to be intimate: There are many ways to experience intimacy. Talk to your partner about what works best for you now–kissing, touching, and hugging can all be very effective ways to express love and affection. Talk about what you need from your partner (and what your partner needs from you). 
  • Safety: Ensure that you and your partner are talking about safe sex. If you’ve already experienced menopause, it’s true that you can no longer become pregnant–but you can catch sexually transmitted infections. Safe sex practices can help keep you healthy and active.
  • Communicate with your doctor: It’s not just your partner you need to communicate with. It’s also your doctor. In part, that’s because your doctor can help you with medical issues that impact your sexual health–getting your desire back on track.

An Enriching Part of Life

There are plenty of misconceptions about what sexuality later in life may look like. What’s important, however, is to determine what you want your sex life to look like. Your OBGYN or Midwife can help you maintain and improve your sexual health–so you can enjoy your sex life as you age.

To talk to an OBGYN or Midwife, contact our Wilmette or Glenview offices today.


Immunizations Recommended in Pregnancy

When you’re pregnant, you need to be a little more careful about a lot of things–food, medications, exercise, and so on. The same is also true of immunizations and vaccines. There are some immunizations you’ll want to avoid and others that are recommended to receive, even during pregnancy.

The immunizations recommended in pregnancy are a critical part of your prenatal care. They’ll help protect you–and your baby–from specific diseases and conditions. And while another “do-this-not-that” list might feel a bit overwhelming, the good news is that your OBGYN or Midwife will be able to tell you which immunizations you should avoid and which you should receive and during what time during your pregnancy. 

The typical immunizations recommended in pregnancy include the influenza (flu) vaccine, TDAP vaccine, RhoGAM immunization, and the Covid-19 vaccine. These vaccines are given the highest levels of scrutiny possible, which means you can feel confident that you’re doing what’s best for your health–and your baby’s health. However, there’s a lot of vaccine misinformation floating around the internet these days. So, if you have questions about vaccines, make sure you speak to your OBGYN or Midwife to find the answers you need to feel safe.

What is a Vaccine?

Immunity and vaccines have been widely discussed over the past few years, but it still might be helpful to go over the basics. It all starts with your body’s immune response. That’s because your immune system is very smart and it learns from experience. Once you’re infected with a disease (for example, chickenpox), your body develops specialized defenses called antibodies. That means you’re very unlikely to get chickenpox again. 

Vaccines are a way to give your immune system this same level of preparation without making you sick. Once you’ve been vaccinated against a virus or bacteria, you’re much less likely to experience symptoms and the illness is successfully prevented, or at least mitigated for certain viruses like COVID.

With a simple and safe shot, a vaccine is able to prevent you from contracting a disease or minimizing it’s effects–many of which are potentially life threatening. When you’re pregnant, your immune system is your baby’s immune system–so protecting you from disease also means protecting your baby.

Types of Vaccines

Broadly speaking, there are three major types of vaccines currently available.

  • Live Virus Vaccines: These vaccines work by injecting you with a very small amount of weakened or live virus. Your body is able to easily fight off any infection because the virus is either presented in limited quantities or weakened.
  • Inactivated Vaccines: These vaccines contain only dead cells. But, for some viruses and bacteria, that’s enough information for your body to successfully create defenses. 
  • mRNA Vaccines: This is a brand new vaccine type. These vaccines contain only spike proteins from viruses. This means that your body can develop immunity to a wide variety of possible mutations. The only mRNA vaccine on the market today is the COVID-19 vaccine, but there are more under development.

Over the course of your pregnancy, you’ll typically be instructed to avoid vaccines that rely on a live virus. That’s because there’s a small risk that the active virus may cause complications with you or your baby. And while that risk is very small, most providers agree that the possible benefits are not worth those risks.

There are some exceptions. That’s because in some unique cases, your OBGYN or Midwife may find that the benefits or live virus vaccines do outweigh the possible risks. You should only take such vaccines under direction from your OBGYN or Midwife.

Few Vaccine Restrictions Related to Nursing

In general, there will be few restrictions on which vaccines you should receive while you are nursing. But there are some rare exceptions, most notably the Yellow Fever and Smallpox vaccines. 

Talk to your OBGYN or Midwife about which vaccines you should avoid–if any–after your baby is born and while you are nursing.

Immunizations Recommended in Pregnancy

There are several immunizations during pregnancy that are recommended. Your OBGYN or Midwife will likely want to schedule the following.

Influenza Vaccine

The influenza vaccine–sometimes called the flu shot–is almost always recommended for those who become pregnant. Because the flu virus mutates so rapidly, the flu shot changes every year. Scientists try to anticipate which flu strains will be prominent and build the vaccine to combat those particular mutations.

Which means that the flu shot won’t always be 100% effective. But even in off years, the protection provided by the shot can reduce your risk of developing severe symptoms. When you’re pregnant, influenza is more likely to cause severe symptoms, so the more protection you can get the better.

TDAP Vaccine

The TDAP shot provides protection against three diseases in one shot. TDAP stands for: it stands for Tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid, and acellular pertussis. One of the most important aspects of this vaccine is that it can grant both you and your baby immunity to pertussis, otherwise known as whooping cough.

Whooping cough is a highly infectious respiratory disease. Before the invention of the vaccine, this ailment was known to be particularly dangerous to infants in the first few months of life. Whooping cough has not been eradicated, so protecting your infant is recommended. Your OBGYN or Midwife will typically recommend you get a TDAP Vaccine between weeks 27 and 36 for maximum effectiveness.

RhoGAM Injection

RhoGAM injections are not vaccines, per se–but they are treatments that will prevent complications and negative outcomes. Here’s how it works: Most people have a substance called Rh in their blood. But some don’t. Those people that don’t are called “Rh-negative.” When someone who is Rh negative encounters Rh-positive blood, their immune system goes into defense mode. This can cause significant and even life-threatening consequences.

For pregnant women who are Rh-negative, there’s a possibility that the birthing process will expose you to your baby’s Rh-positive blood. A RhoGAM injection uses a specially formulated human plasma dose to provide protection against Rh-positive blood. You may only need RhoGAM if you are Rh-negative, and these immunizations during pregnancy can successfully prevent negative outcomes. If you aren’t sure of your Rh status, talk to your OBGYN or Midwife about possible risk factors.

COVID-19 Vaccine

There are several variations of the COVID-19 vaccine, the most popular of which are produced by Moderna or Pfizer. These are both mRNA vaccines that provide significant protection with minimal risk. Even when you’re pregnant, there is a very low risk of serious complications from either of these vaccines.

The same cannot be said of COVID-19 itself, which can present elevated risks for severe symptoms for pregnant individuals. That’s why your OBGYN or Midwife will recommend that you make sure your COVID-19 vaccinations are up to date. For most people, this will also involve getting a booster shot to ensure your immunity to COVID is maximized.

What’s the Best Timing for Immunizations While Pregnant?

Your OBGYN and Midwife will work with you to develop a vaccine schedule if necessary. That way, you’ll know when you should be getting each vaccination. The schedule will be considered and discussed in a way that optimizes your protection and any possible benefit your infant might receive from the vaccines (such as with the TDAP vaccine).

Vaccines are a powerful tool that can help prevent infection and disease in both pregnant individuals and infants. When you’re pregnant, you have to be a little more careful about vaccines. But that’s why it’s important to ask your OBGYN or Midwife about the immunizations recommended in pregnancy.

To receive individualized immunization advice, schedule an appointment with an OBGYN or Midwife at our Wilmette or Glenview locations.


5 Common Myths About Ultrasound

If you’re an expecting parent, you’re probably looking forward to your obstetrical ultrasound. It’s an exciting time, and an opportunity to “meet” your baby for the first time! But common myths about ultrasounds can skew expectations–and apprehensions. 

An ultrasound is one of the most well-known diagnostic tests in medicine, especially as it relates to pregnancy. For pregnant individuals, an ultrasound is often your first chance to see your new baby, as well as an opportunity for your OBGYN or Midwife to check on the health and progression of your newest family member.

But there are some common ultrasound misconceptions that have developed, often due to the ways that ultrasound devices have been portrayed in popular media over the years. By correcting some of these common myths about ultrasounds, you can feel more confident and comfortable having your ultrasound completed and understanding the results.

Common Myths About Ultrasounds

Myth #1: Ultrasounds Use Radiation

X-rays, CT scans, and some other diagnostic devices may use small amounts of ionizing radiation in order to effectively create an image. But that’s not true with ultrasound devices. Instead of radiation, ultrasound relies on high-frequency sound waves. The sound waves travel through your body and reflect off of the tissue in the scanned area. The amniotic fluid in your uterus provides a perfect medium for these high frequency sound waves. 

When those sound waves bounce back, a computer is able to extrapolate the general shape of what those sound waves bounce off of. You can think of it as an artificial form of echolocation

As with many ultrasound myths, this particular misconception comes from a very understandable place. If you’re pregnant, you may worry about how even a small amount of radiation will harm your baby. Luckily, there is no radiation present in ultrasounds–which makes this an incredibly safe and effective diagnostic test for you and your baby.

Myth #2: Ultrasounds Create Perfect Images

Often, ultrasound imaging is portrayed in pop culture as almost like a photograph. And while it’s true that sometimes high resolution images can be obtained during this diagnostic, it’s important to keep in mind the inherent limitations of the technology. Ultrasound technology is not infallible. There may be errors or miscalculations, especially when it comes to:

  • Gender: At 11 weeks, ultrasounds are roughly 70% accurate when it comes to predicting the sex of the infant. That accuracy increases to around 97% at 13 weeks. However, if your infant is crossing their legs or there are other obstructions, it can be difficult for your ultrasound provider to identify the sex of your child. 
  • Measurements: An ultrasound will usually deliver an estimate regarding your baby’s weight. However, it’s possible for these estimates to be off by as much as 10-20%. That said, even within this margin of error, these measurements do provide a useful baseline for charting your baby’s growth during your pregnancy if indicated.

It’s important to point out that ultrasound images are not always self-evident. Your OBGYN or Midwife will analyze the ultrasound’s findings, including heartbeat and estimated weight, to paint a picture of your baby’s health that’s as accurate as possible.

Myth #3: An Ultrasound Can Cause Early Pregnancy Loss if Performed During the First Three Months

There is absolutely no evidence to support one of the most harmful ultrasound myths: the notion that an ultrasound causes early pregnancy loss during the first trimester. However, there are a couple of understandable reasons why this misconception may have popped up.

  • Ultrasounds are performed early: A single ultrasound is typically scheduled during your first trimester. This ultrasound is performed to estimate how long you’ve been pregnant and assess the health and growth of your baby Patients who have a history of early pregnancy loss may often want an ultrasound sooner rather than later. This first ultrasound helps determine dating and viability, while a second ultrasound performed around weeks 11-13 is  often done for genetic screening purposes.
  • Ultrasounds can detect problems during the first trimester: Your initial ultrasound is performed to assess the health of your baby–which means that sometimes this diagnostic will detect problems. A fetus that is not developing properly can often pose a risk to the pregnant individual and necessitate medical intervention. However, these interventions are due to the underlying condition–not due to the ultrasound.

An ultrasound is an incredibly safe and common procedure, and there’s no evidence these tests cause an increased risk of miscarriage–no matter what trimester they are performed in.

Myth #4: You Should Get an Ultrasound at Every Appointment

Throughout the course of your pregnancy, you’ll visit your OBGYN or Midwife often for periodic wellness checks. One of the most popular ultrasound myths is that you’ll be given an ultrasound at every one of these appointments. The reality is that most people will only undergo 2-3 ultrasound checks throughout the duration of their pregnancy. 

There are several reasons for this:

  • Additional ultrasounds typically are not necessary to ensure the health of you and your baby.
  • An ultrasound test itself will typically only last ten minutes or so. At some clinics, it may take several hours or even an entire day for a radiologist to interpret your results and get back to you. At NSAGO, our ultrasound techs typically are able to do all of this on the spot, so patients do get results almost immediately. Then again, just because it’s a fast process doesn’t always mean it’s a necessary one!

Most insurance carriers will only cover a limited number of obstetrical ultrasounds per pregnancy so it’s important to know if yours has a limit unless medically necessary. In some cases, your ultrasound may uncover issues that need to be regularly monitored. In those cases, more frequent ultrasounds will be warranted all the way to birth.

Myth #5: 3D Ultrasounds Are Superior to 2D Ultrasounds

When it comes to technology, there’s an understandable impulse to automatically assume that newer means better. So-called three dimensional (3D) ultrasounds take a series of images and use a computer algorithm to stitch those images together into a 3D representation of your baby.

Because they function utilizing the same technology as 2D ultrasounds, 3D ultrasounds are not necessarily superior. To be sure, the images the ultrasound creates can sometimes be more instructive, more illuminating, or feel more real. That’s why 3D ultrasounds can sometimes be quite effective at spotting issues such as possible birth defects.

There are several available variations on ultrasound technology (even 4D or 5D ultrasounds). Your OBGYN or Midwife will know which diagnostic will be most useful to you at any given time.

Talk to Your OBGYN or Midwife About Your Ultrasound

There are even more common myths about ultrasounds floating around–especially in these days of the internet. But the bottom line is that an ultrasound is an incredibly safe and routine diagnostic procedure. 

That doesn’t mean you won’t have questions or concerns, both of which are entirely understandable. The best place to get individualized answers is from your OBGYN or Midwife.

If you want to know more about what your ultrasound experience will be like, schedule an appointment with an OBGYN or Midwife at our Wilmette or Glenview locations!

When Labor Goes on For Days

Most parents-to-be hope for a speedy labor and a swift birth. Unfortunately, your labor may have other plans. So it can feel both uncomfortable and frustrating when labor goes on for days.

For most first-time birthing individuals, labor will usually last anywhere between 12-18 hours (only 4 to 8 hours of active labor). But there are several reasons why your contractions may last longer than that–a condition often called false labor or prolonged early labor. Medically known as prodromal labor, prolonged labor can happen for days or weeks–sometimes more even longer.

For birthing individuals, then, it becomes essential to know when this latent labor stage turns into active labor–and when you should be in contact with your birth team. Your OBGYN or Midwife will keep a close eye on your health and your baby’s condition to make sure the birth process goes as smoothly as possible–and you can look forward to welcoming a new member to your family!

Reasons Why Labor Goes on for Days

To a certain degree, your body is going to follow its own schedule when it comes to giving birth. For some individuals, the birth process happens rather rapidly. For others, labor may take some time. Generally, you’ll have no reason to expect labor to take longer than 20 hours. 

So, why, then, do you hear stories about labor that continues for days? The answer is a condition called prodromal labor.

What is Prodromal Labor?

In popular culture prodromal labor is often referred to as “false labor,” but this isn’t really a good description (especially because “false labor” is often mistakenly used to describe Braxton-Hicks contractions–which are very different from prodromal labor). That’s because prodromal contractions are real contractions, even if birth can still be a few days (or weeks) off. 

For most women, prodromal labor will occur during the last month of your pregnancy. Prodromal labor pains will usually be regular and can even grow in intensity. That’s why it’s not unusual to mistake prodromal labor for active labor–and why a phone call to your birth team can be a good idea!

Prodromal labor pains don’t necessarily mean your baby’s birth is imminent. Active labor could begin the next day or the next week (or, in some instances, the next month). 

What Are the Symptoms of Prolonged Early Labor?

So how can you tell when you’re having prodromal labor or active labor? In many cases, making this distinction can be challenging at first. So if you have any doubt or hesitation, make sure to contact your birth team. 

In general, however, the symptoms of prodromal labor will look something like this:

  • Contractions that occur on a regular basis. For most people undergoing prodromal labor, contractions will be equally spaced. They may even occur at the same time on a daily basis.
  • Contractions that occur less than every five minutes apart–though the frequency between the contractions will usually be consistent.
  • Contractions that come and go.
  • Contractions that grow in intensity or diminish in intensity.
  • Slow dilation of your cervix.

Prodromal Labor vs. Braxton-Hicks Contractions

Because they both represent a kind of early contraction, prodromal labor is often confused with Braxton-Hicks Contractions. But the two are very different. Braxton-Hicks contractions are not caused by the same biological functions, and they do not present with any regularity. So how can you tell prodromal labor from Braxton-Hicks? 

You can try the following:

  • Notice the frequency between your contractions. Prodromal contractions tend to occur with regular frequencies. That’s not true of Braxton-Hicks contractions.
  • Braxton-Hicks contractions can be minimized by relaxation or drinking and eating. If those don’t help your contractions, they may be prodromal in nature.
  • If your contractions grow in intensity, they’re likely prodromal. Braxton-Hicks contractions are less regular, but they rarely grow in intensity.
  • Braxton-Hicks contractions are indicated by a tight, regular sensation, but they aren’t known for being particularly intense. 
  • Prodromal labor can cause the cervix to dilate. This is not something that occurs with Braxton-Hicks contractions (admittedly, this might be challenging to document or observe at home).
  • Braxton-Hicks contractions are like your body’s practice contractions. Prodromal contractions, however, are real contractions. 

Prodromal Labor vs. Active Labor

Because prodromal contractions are, essentially, real contractions, you may find it difficult to know when your early labor transitions to active labor. Here’s what you’ll want to pay attention to:

  • The time between contractions: If your contractions are growing closer together, it’s likely that you’re starting the active labor process.
  • The intensity of your contractions: Likewise, if your contractions are growing more intense (and the growth in intensity is quite regular), then it’s likely you’re beginning the active labor phase.
  • Whether your labor stops: If you have contractions for half an hour and then they stop, it’s likely you’re still experiencing prodromal labor. Active labor contractions will typically not stop .

Are There Risks Associated with Prolonged Labor?

The good news is that prodromal labor is not actively harmful to you or your baby. It may result in an extra trip to the hospital or a few extra phone calls to your birth team–but otherwise, early labor is fairly common and does not present special risks.

However, it’s not a stretch to imagine that when labor goes on for days or weeks, you’re likely to get a little uncomfortable or become tired. your prodromal labor is causing intense pain, that could be a challenge. Talk to your OBGYN or Midwife about the best ways to help manage that pain and remain as comfortable as possible. In most cases, prodromal labor on its own will not be an indication for Pitocin or for C-Section but it could warrant a visit to the office or hospital for evaluation and monitor how you and the baby are coping overall. . 

Talk About Your Labor Plans

Everyone’s labor is going to be different. For some birthing individuals, active labor will take a few short hours. For others, contractions could occur for 20-24 hours or longer. And when labor goes on for days, coping may become more challenging.

You won’t know what kind of birth experience you’re in for until your own labor process begins. That’s why it’s essential to talk through the wide variety of possibilities with your OBGYN or Midwife. The more prepared you are for any circumstance, the fewer decisions you’ll have to make in the heat of the moment. 

Even when labor goes on for days, the wait is worth it to meet your new baby. To find out more about what happens during labor, talk to the OBGYNs and Midwives at our Wilmette or Glenview locations.