*This post has been updated on Sept. 21st, 2016. See the new post here.
The last few weeks of pregnancy can be SO frustrating and confusing if you are experiencing false labor. But what is false labor in the first place? If you’ve never had a contraction in your life as a first-time mother, how the heck are you supposed to know what is going on with your body?
Well, I’m here to help you know the difference. I have now experienced false labor pains and can help you understand which is which.
See, I woke up on Sunday at 3 am having low grade, not very strong contractions. They were deep down low at my cervix and I knew they weren’t regular Braxton Hicks. I didn’t get out of bed because I really just wanted to sleep. They certainly weren’t too much to handle so I just tried to go back to sleep, not worried about them.
But I would check my phone when I’d have one start and I noticed the timing wasn’t very consistent–5 minutes here, 2 minutes there, 10 minutes…. This went on for about two hours and they weren’t changing much.
Then I started having diarrhea-like cramps, thinking I’d have to go to the bathroom soon. This didn’t surprise me because having diarrhea is a common symptom before active labor and one that I’ve had in both previous pregnancies. So I figured I was on my way to deliver my baby that very day and that my preparation and exercise had just made my contractions not very overpowering from the start.
I called my mom who had an 1.5-hour drive to come be our babysitter for the day. She showed up at 6 am and immediately after I ran down the stairs to open the door for her, my contractions stopped. STOPPED!
I was eating my breakfast expecting them to keep going, but then I’d glance at the clock and groan….maybe I was having false labor.
What Is False Labor?
The easy answer is that it’s:
- not true labor
- not real labor
- labor that doesn’t go anywhere
- or labor that doesn’t amount to the baby coming down the birth canal
So then, what’s TRUE or REAL labor? That doesn’t really answer the question, so we have to compare things side by side to truly understand what’s going on with our bodies.
|False Labor||True Labor|
|When?||When you’re full term, the last month of pregnancy||Immediately before delivery|
|Where?||Anywhere, they can feel like very strong Braxton Hicks that go deep down low into your cervix, in your back, very weak or minor cervical contractions, strong period-like cramps||Usually only down low at your cervix, front and back|
|Strength?||Can be strong or very weak, alternating between intensities||Gets strong and stronger consistently|
|Activity?||Not consistent over time, a change in your movement affects them||Very consistent, getting closer and closer together, change in your movement doesn’t affect this|
In essence, false labor is random. True labor is not. So how can you know?
This may be the first time you’ve ever felt anything like them and trying to understand if things are random or not can be difficult, confusing and often be the last thought on your mind in the moment.
How To Know It’s False Labor
There are a few things you can do to rule out the fact that you need to head to your birthing center right away. They’re easy tests to do and you should know right away after doing them.
- Check The Timing – You don’t need to worry about how long the contractions are because it really doesn’t matter in the end, even with real labor. Just check the minutes on your watch or phone when you feel one starting. Now, if you need to write down the minute intervals so you don’t forget, jot it down on a pad of paper, get through the contraction, then move on to see if they’re consistent. False labor contractions won’t be the same distance apart, time wise.
- So if you have contractions at these intervals: 2 mins, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 6 minutes; for example, they’re not real contractions.
- If you’re seeing a pattern like this: 10 mins, 10 minutes, 8 minutes, 8 minutes, 7 minutes; they are likely real labor contractions.
- Move Around – Change what you’re doing physically, walking is actually best. You’ll feel an immediate change in your contractions if they’re false, they’ll go away for the most part. If they don’t go away at all after walking around the block, you’re having real labor. (In this case, keep walking to speed them up!)
- Eat Something – Making our body change its energy focus shifts blood flow and hormones, redirecting molecules where they need to go. If you’re in real labor, eating isn’t going to distract your body from continuing it’s contractions.
- Take A Bath – Allowing your body to relax, applying heat and comfort will either provide relief from true labor contractions or almost immediately help your false labor pains to subside and relax away. Either way, you’re going to feel more comfortable.
If you try to analyze how your contractions feel and where they’re located, it can be more difficult. Every single one of us experiences labor pains differently, and the typical locations and descriptions of them can be muddled and different for some.
Just know that false labor contractions can feel like just about any other form of contractions, such as braxton hicks, cramps, cervical contractions, back labor, etc. But when you are in the real stages of labor, you WILL KNOW. If you’re a bit confused, it’s most likely that they’re NOT real.
Other Signs That Can Be Helpful
Typically if you haven’t lost your mucus plug yet, you still won’t during false labor. But if you’re in true labor, you won’t necessarily lose it either–but you’re MORE likely to if you haven’t lost it already. I’ve never noticed when I’ve lost my mucus plug so I don’t take it as a for sure sign of anything because it can mean you’re minutes away from delivery or even a week.
Your bag of water is not going to break from false labor either. However, it’s not necessarily going to break when you’re in real labor. But, again, it’s more likely to. That’s a whole ‘nother topic of frustrating discussion. Just remember that if your water DOES break, you’re in real labor. But it doesn’t HAVE to break for it to be real labor. Crazy, huh? (Or you can manually break it during labor too.)
False labor isn’t a sign of when you’re going to begin true labor, just only that it’s getting closer. It’s a little more complex for what causes labor to start.
I Still Have Questions
There are so many circumstances surrounding false labor and what you need to watch out for that it can annoying trying to remember all the outcomes you need to worry about. If any of these questions or circumstances apply to you, then keep in mind the ones that are important.
What if I’m having contractions and I’m not full term?
This is actually pre-term labor, anything before 37 weeks of your pregnancy. You can have your water break or not, irregular contractions or not, blood show, etc. ANYTHING before 37 weeks can be harmful and indicate that something is wrong. If you experience anything before then, go into your doctor right away to make sure that you’re taken care of properly if your baby needs extra attention.
Will false labor turn into true labor?
Not likely. You can have false labor a single time, then give birth maybe a day or two after. You can have false labor off and on for weeks even. If you’re still unsure, just do those few tests I outlined above to know. If things starting out as seemingly false, then have changed in consistency, becoming regular–then YES you are now in true labor.
How do I know if I’ll have false labor or not?
Every mama is different and every pregnancy is usually different. I never had false labor with my first two babies. This week was my first time experiencing it. If you mother or sisters had it, that doesn’t mean that you will. About 20% of mothers have false labor, and it’s actually more common in first-time pregnancies than later ones. I guess that makes me the rare statistic here. But even if you do, it’s not a sign of anything that you’ve done physically wrong. It’s just the randomness of pregnancy.
What can I do to decrease my chances of having false labor?
Not much. I have found a few resources that indicate possible physical or emotion interactions that can be associated with having false labor, like sexual activity that doesn’t lead to a natural induction. But that doesn’t mean doing so will give you false labor. Emotional and hormonal fluctuations can cause just about anything it seems as well, but that doesn’t mean it will either.
After I had finished my breakfast on Sunday, I went on a walk to know for sure if my contractions would change. Turns out, they didn’t come back. Later at church that day around lunch time, I had a few again that were like super strong braxton hicks, but then they quit again upon walking. So there was my answer–false labor. Annoying!
Okay, who’s had false labor out there? I need some stories. I have now become one of you and can vent over and over about the fact that I had to come back to work this week when I really didn’t want to. Please comment and let’s laugh about it. Cheers!