False labour

False labour & Braxton Hicks contractions

As your due date approaches, the painless and infrequent Braxton Hicks contractions you may have been feeling since midpregnancy sometimes become more rhythmic, relatively close together, and even painful, possibly fooling you into thinking you’re in labor. But unlike true labor, this so-called false labor doesn’t cause significant, progressive dilation of your cervix, and the contractions usually don’t grow consistently longer, stronger, and closer together. Not every woman experiences false labor. And in some cases, the strong, regular contractions of true labor come on with little or no warning.

It can be hard to tell false labor from the early stages of true labor. If you’re 37 weeks or more, here’s some helpful information for telling the difference:

  • False labor contractions are unpredictable. They usually come at irregular intervals and vary in length and intensity. Although true labor contractions may be irregular at first, over time they start coming at regular and shorter intervals, become increasingly more intense, and last longer.
  • With false labor, the pain from the contractions is more likely to be centered in your lower abdomen. With true labor, the pain may start in your lower back and wrap around to your abdomen.
  • False labor contractions may subside on their own, when you start or stop an activity, or when you change position. True labor contractions persist and progress no matter what you do.

True labor

False labor contractions can be a real drag, disrupting your sleep and making you tired and cranky. (Drinking plenty of liquids can sometimes help, along with trying to rest.) You might also feel anxious, wondering when true labor will start. There’s no way to predict exactly when labor will start. And even when you notice early signs of labor, your baby’s birth could still be days or weeks away. More frequent and intense Braxton Hicks contractions can signal prelabor, which is when your cervix starts to thin and widen, and sets the stage for true labor.  When your contractions grow stronger, longer, and more frequent it’s a sign true labor is imminent. When your water breaks, whether it comes out in a large gush or a small trickle, this is a signal labor has started. Most women start having regular contractions before their water breaks, but in some cases, the water breaks first. When this happens, labor usually follows soon after. Read more when it’s time to call the midwife