Is this False Labor or True Labor? How to Tell the Difference

Learn how to tell the difference between false labor and real labor in your first pregnancy.

It’s happening…

You can feel the pain starting, surging through your body.

But wait…

Is this the real thing or are you experiencing false labor?

I’m sure you can agree with me that not knowing if you are experiencing true labor or something else can be frustrating and scary.

Rest assured, these anxieties happen to many women. Even the most experienced mothers might mistake false labor pains for the real thing.

Because, gosh darn it, they can certainly feel like the real thing some times.

Even if this isn’t your first pregnancy, you might still be unsure if you are experiencing false or true labor pains. And that’s okay.

In this post I am going to walk through how you can easily tell the difference between false labor and true labor. Because no mama wants to go to the hospital thinking she is in labor just to be sent home due to a false alarm.

What is False Labor?

You have probably heard of the term Braxton Hicks or Braxton Hicks contractions.

These are simply fancy names for false labor pains. Many women might experience false labor pains before their real labor actually starts.

These false labor pains can occur as early as the fourth month of pregnancy.

While, admittedly, that can be a very scary situation, false labor is nothing to be alarmed about. False labor is just one more way that your body helps you to prepare for the actual process of labor and delivery.

What does false labor feel like?

Well in short…it can feel like labor and be just as painful.

On the plus side, if you can listen to your body, you should be able to easily tell if you are experiencing false labor pains or the real thing.

False labor can occur from uterine contractions as a result of changing position or intercourse.

The contractions you feel as a result of false labor don’t change in timing or intensity; unlike true labor contractions. 

What is True Labor?

True labor means it’s go time!

So I hope you have your hospital bag packed because it’s time to get ready to head out and have a baby.

However, just because true labor has started does not mean that you should immediately run to the hospital. It can take some time between contractions starting and actual delivery time.

True contractions feel different in each woman and can even vary from pregnancy to pregnancy.

Generally true labor starts in the lower abdomen and back with increasing pressure in the pelvic area.

True contractions can feel like a really bad period cramp or like you really, really have to go to the bathroom, i.e. diarrhea cramps. While the cramping generally

starts out dull, it will continually intensify all the way through delivery. 

So how can you safely tell the difference between true and false labor, without having to rush into the hospital every few hours?

How to Tell the Difference Between True and False Labor

As I mentioned previously, if you are able to stay calm and listen to your body, you should be able to easily tell if you are experiencing true or false labor pains.

First of all, the closer you are to your due date, the more likely it might be true labor. So that is the good news.

There are two main ways to detect if you are experiencing true or false labor; timing the contractions and changing your position or moving.

When it comes to false labor, there really is no timing the contractions.

They will appear in irregular intervals and do not get closer together or change in intensity. When you are experiencing true labor pains, you should be able to time

your contractions.

They will continue at regular and consistent intervals and still start to intensify. They will also get closer as time goes on, indicating that the baby is ready to make

his or her entrance. The contractions themselves also tend to last for 30 seconds to about a minute.

So break out your phone and have your partner start timing them to see if they are true or false contractions.

Another way to tell if you are experiencing true or false labor pains is to move around and change your position.

When experiencing false labor your contractions should stop if you move around, go for a walk, rest, or upon changing positions. So take that as an excuse to rest

up and take a nap!

With true labor, there is no stopping it, no matter how much you walk around or rest. Although going for a walk might help move things along, so if you are ready

to go into labor, then take a walk.

What About Other Pain I’m Experiencing?

During pregnancy our bodies change, a lot!

You might sometimes experience pain in your side, groin area, or pain in your vagina.

While this is very inconvenient and annoying, it’s normal. This is simply your body growing and making room for your baby and ever expanding uterus.

If you are continually experiencing pain, that is not false or true labor pains, try to alleviate it by making some simple changes to your routine.

If you can, change the position you are sitting or laying in or change the activity you are currently doing.

For example, if you are trying to be active by riding your bike and are experiencing a lot of pain, try walking or swimming instead. Low impact activities are good for staying active while reducing pain.

Always make sure you are getting enough fluids on a daily basis. You should ideally be drinking around 96 ounces or water a day.

Yes, I realize that is a lot and you will be peeing every two seconds. However, it will help prevent dehydration and ease unnecessary pain and cramping.

Lastly, take this as an excuse to rest and relax, cuz you’re not going to get much of it once your little bundle of joy arrives.  

When to Contact Your Doctor

While there are many valid reasons to contact your doctor or health care provider when questions arise during your pregnancy, you don’t need to be calling them every time you feel a twinge of pain.

If you have gone through the steps of trying to determine yourself if you are experiencing true or false labor and are still unsure, then it might be time to contact your healthcare provider.

However, there are certain situations in which you should absolutely contact your doctor.

If you are experiencing any bright red vaginal bleeding, then you should contact your doctor immediately.

While you might experience some light spotting or discharge as a result of losing your mucus plug or other scenarios, you should not be actually bleeding. This could indicate some type of medical emergency or a potential miscarriage.

Either way, you should get in touch with your doctor right away for further instructions.

You should also contact your doctor if you know that your water has broken or you are experiencing a continual leaking of fluid.

This happened to me when I was pregnant with twins. I started leaking clear fluid and went to the the hospital. They took a sample and actually told me it wasn’t amniotic fluid. It was odd, but this was before I learned that my cervix was shortening.

You should also contact your doctor if you are unable to handle your contractions or if they are very strong and you are experiencing them every five minutes for up to one hour.

Lastly, if you are not feeling your baby move regularly.

Commonly, movements of six to 10 times per hour is about average. If you are feeling less movement than that it could mean that your baby is under duress and you need medical attention.

Avoiding False Alarms

Let me tell you a little story…

I once knew a mom who thought she was going into labor.

She went to the hospital because she was having contractions (this was her third pregnancy). The doctors said she wasn’t ready and sent her home. Within the hour, she ended up having the baby in her bathtub with her husband getting there just in time to catch their little guy being born.

Why am I telling you this?

Because labor and delivery can be a scary thing, full of anxiety and uncertainty.

And nobody wants to have to deliver their baby in their bathtub when they expect to be delivering them the hospital. While you don’t want to rush to the ER for every small contraction, it is wise to have a conversation with your health care team about how you are feeling.

Have a talk with your doctor about exactly when you should go to the hospital, such as, your contractions being 5 minutes apart. While a premature trip to the hospital might be a bit frustrating, you also don’t want to wait too long and have it be too late.

Especially if you are opting for an epidural.

A few other things that can potentially help you through if you are experiencing false labor is having a strong support system.

Many women find having a doula available to talk through things to be helpful. Talk with your partner about what you are feeling and have them help you try and get comfortable and monitor your contractions to determine which type of labor you are experiencing.

Over to you – is this your first pregnancy?

Are you ready to give birth?

Please pin me!

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Best thing ever! Can’t wait till it “actually” happens!Reply to Hazel
Hi Hazel, That’s wonderful thing to hear! Congrats!Reply to Elna