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True vs. False Labor: How Can You Tell?

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Whether you have experienced it yourself, or had the pleasure of running along side a loved one, the false labor visit to the hospital is extremely common (especially with first-time pregnancies)! So how can you tell the difference between the “real thing” and the still uncomfortable-yet false contractions?

Lets first talk about the real deal. TRUE labor begins with contractions. They occur regularly (so time them out on paper) and become stronger the longer they continue. In addition to becoming stronger with time, contractions will start to last longer, and occur closer together.

It will be helpful to keep a watch with a second hand readily available. Have someone keep track of when each contraction begins and ends. To stay organized make a contraction chart with columns labeled: Start of Contraction, End of Contraction, and Duration. (So it might look like: Start: 10:00:35 am, End: 10:00:55 am, Duration: 20 seconds). You can do this for four or five contractions and then take a break for a little while (few minutes to a few hours) or until mom thinks the contractions are changing at all.

True contractions become more intense with walking. Often times the pain is felt in the lower back and spreads along the sides to the lower abdomen.

Once admitted to the hospital or birthing center (or healthcare provider arrives at your home if you are having a home birth) a cervical examination will occur. Changes in your cervix occur when in true labor. These changes include thinning out (effacement), softening, and dilation. When these changes occur there is sometimes the onset of “bloody show” (bloody-looking discharge).

The positive changes in your cervix and bloody show might be accurate sign of true labor, but what about the little changes that lead up to this point that might be hard to distinguish between true and false labor?

FALSE labor contractions occur irregularly, or become regular only temporarily. When you change positions or walk around these contractions often stop. The false contraction can be felt in the back or abdomen above the belly button and often times can be stopped with certain comfort measures.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.