How to Tell the Difference Between Real and False Labor

You have gotten to the stage in your pregnancy where you are starting to experience signs of labor, but you are not sure if they point to Real or False Labor. Every woman, and every pregnancy is different, but every pregnancy has very definite signs of Labor that you will need to pay attention to in order to figure out if you are actually in Labor, or if you body is just practicing and preparing for the big day.

If you are not close to full term and feel like you are in labor now, it is best to give your Midwife or Obstetrician a call and ask to be seen immediately. It is always better to be safe than sorry when the life of your child depends on you. No one will think you are overreacting or laugh at you for worrying about the safety of your baby.

Braxton Hicks Contractions:

Braxton Hicks Contractions are not real contractions, they are practice contractions for your uterus that help your body to prepare for the real thing and usually start to become noticeable sometime after the 20th week of pregnancy. If you have had several pregnancies, you may start to feel them from the very beginning of your pregnancy. They will happen infrequently at first, with no pattern and no pain. You will notice a slight tightening of your belly with little discomfort. They may start at the top of your belly and slowly move down, or you may only feel them on the bottom or just in front. Braxton Hicks Contractions will not cover your uterus completely, the front may feel very hard, while the sides of your belly are still soft. Braxton Hick Contractions will most likely stop if you get up and move around or change your position. These contractions will only last between 15-30 seconds earlier in pregnancy, increasing to between 30-60 seconds later in pregnancy and even as long as 2 minutes as you near the end of your pregnancy. While the length of the Braxton Hicks Contractions will increase, they will still have the same characteristics I have described through out your entire pregnancy.

Real Contractions:

Real Labor Contractions will most likely start out with little pain or discomfort and you might not even notice them when they first start. They will gradually increase in intensity, pain and discomfort over time. It might take an hour or less to become noticeably uncomfortable, it could take several hours, a day or even several days. Everyone experiences labor differently and a woman can experience labor differently from pregnancy to pregnancy. The most important thing is to be able to recognize that they are in fact Real Contractions. Real Contractions may feel like heavy menstrual cramps and will possibly be accompanied by lower back pain and/or diarrhea. These contractions will involve more of your body, the pain could start in your back or upper legs and move towards your belly, followed by complete tightening of your belly. It is just as likely that you will feel the pain specifically in your belly or that the contractions will start in your belly and work their way to your back and/or legs.

Real Contractions will eventually become stronger and closer together, lasting between 30-45 seconds in early labor and be anywhere from 5-20 minutes apart. They will continue to increase in both intensity and pain. Real Contractions will not go away when you get up and move around or change position, and it may be difficult to speak through them.

By the second stage of labor, they will be more consistently 3-5 minutes apart lasting between 45-60 seconds. At this point, you will know you are in labor and should be at the hospital by now.

For information on how to Correctly Time Labor Contractions, please see my article linked at the bottom of this article.

Rupture of the Membranes:

Also known as Water Breaking, this is a sign that of labor that may come before contractions start, or during early active labor. Your water may never break at all until the final stage of labor and may have to be broken just before the baby is born, or as a way to help move labor along if it has slowed down. It is also possible that your water may break and no contractions or progression in labor will happen. If you water breaks at any point during pregnancy, you need to call your Midwife or Obstetrician right away. If your water breaks and labor does not progress, it could lead to an infection that could harm your baby.

Mucous Plug/Bloody Show:

The cervix is covered by a think layer of Mucous during pregnancy that starts to loosen up and is passed in early labor. If you loose your Mucous Plug, it may or may not be a sure sign that Labor is beginning. A clear mucous discharge can happen several weeks before labor actually begins as your cervix slowly starts to dilate or efface.

If you loose your mucous plug and it is streaked pinkish or is blood streaked, that is a sign of true labor. As your cervix starts to dilate more, blood vessels around it will start to break, causing pink or blood stained mucous discharge. At this point, you may already be experiencing painful or uncomfortable contractions and the Bloody Show will just be another sign of True Labor. It is also likely that you will not be feeling any contractions yet and will start to feel them within an hour, several hours or you may not have any contractions for another 24 hours or even more.

If you notice any of these signs of labor before 38 weeks of pregnancy call your Midwife or Obstetrician right away, don’t wait to look for other signs of labor before calling in.

If you notice any bright red bleeding anytime during pregnancy, call your Midwife or Obstetrician right away, do not wait for it to go away or for other signs of labor to appear.

Don’t ever be afraid to feel embarrassed or think that anyone will laugh at you or think you are overreacting if you ever have any concerns at any point during your pregnancy. If you feel like something is wrong with the baby or even if you just have a feeling like something is not right, call your Midwife or Obstetrician and ask to be seen. As a mother, you have the strongest connection to your baby and very often, your gut instinct will be correct.

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