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True vs. False Labor

Armen Hareyan's picture

The way a contraction feels is different for each woman and may feel different from one pregnancy to the next.

Before true labor begins, you may have false labor pains, also known as Braxton Hicks contractions. These irregular uterine contractions are perfectly normal and may start to occur from your fourth month of pregnancy. They are your body' s way of getting ready for the "real thing."

What do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like?

Braxton Hicks contractions can be described as tightening in the abdomen that comes and goes. These contractions do not get closer together, do not increase with walking, do not increase in how long they last or how often they occur, and do not feel stronger over time.

What do true labor contractions feel like?

The way a contraction feels is different for each woman and may feel different from one pregnancy to the next. Labor contractions cause discomfort or a dull ache in your back and lower abdomen, along with pressure in the pelvis. Some women may also feel pain in their sides and thighs. Some women describe contractions as strong menstrual cramps, while others describe them as strong waves that feel like diarrhea cramps.

So how do you know when your contractions are the "real thing?"

Timing of contractions

* False Labor: Often are irregular and do not get closer together

* True Labor: Come at regular intervals and as time goes on, get closer together. Contractions last about 30-70 seconds.

Change with movement

* False Labor: contractions may stop when you walk or rest, or may even stop when you change position

* True Labor: Contractions continue, despite movement or changing positions

Strength of contractions

* False Labor: Contractions are usually weak and do not get much stronger (may be strong first, then get weaker)

* True Labor: Contractions steadily increase in strength

Pain of contractions

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* False Labor: contractions are usually only felt in the front of the abdomen or pelvic region

* True Labor: Contractions usually start in the lower back and move to the front of the abdomen

What should I do when I have Braxton Hicks contractions?

Here are some suggestions to make you more comfortable during this "pre-labor" stage:

* Take a walk. False labor contractions often stop when you change position or get up and walk.
* Get some sleep or rest.
* Listen to relaxing music.
* Drink water, juice or herbal tea.
* Eat a snack or small meal.
* Get a foot or hand massage from your partner.
* Ask someone to massage your back and shoulders.
* Go to your favorite place in your home and slowly relax each part of your body.
* Go to a movie or rent one.

As your contractions get stronger, try these tips:

* Take a warm shower or tub bath.
* Slow dance to your favorite music while leaning forward on your partner.
* Rock in a rocking chair.
* Change positions often.
* Ask your partner for some positive feedback.
* Rest between contractions; imagine yourself relaxing in your favorite vacation spot.
* During contractions, take slow, deep, easy breaths in, feel that comfortable fullness in your lungs bringing oxygen to you and your baby. When you exhale, let your muscles go loose.
* With each contraction, imagine your baby nuzzling in your arms.
* Pray!
* Suck on a lollipop or Popsicle.
* Sit on a chair and lean forward.
* If your lower back hurts:
* Ask your partner to press firmly on the area where you feel the greatest pressure or pain
* Get on your hands and knees and lean on the bed
* If you have a birth ball, get on your knees and lean over the ball; roll the ball backward and forward to "rock" your pelvis
* Get on your hands and knees and arch your back, then flatten it and repeat several times
* Try warm or cold compresses on your lower back
* Ask your partner to try rolling a beverage can, tennis ball or rolling pin on your lower back

I sometimes have pain on the side of my stomach. Is this false labor?

Sharp, shooting pains on either side of your abdomen (called round ligament pain) that travel into the groin may result from stretching ligaments that support your growing uterus.

To ease your discomfort:

* Try changing your position or activity
* Make sure you are drinking enough fluids (at least 6 to 8 glasses of water, juice, or milk per day)
* Try to rest

I am afraid to keep bothering my health care provider with "false alarms." When should I call my health care provider?

Your health care provider is available any time to answer your questions and to ease your concerns about whether or not your contractions are signs of true or false labor. Don't be afraid to call your health care provider if you are not sure what it is you are feeling. He or she may ask you some questions to help determine if you are truly in labor. If there is any question at all, it' s better to be evaluated by your health care provider.

It is essential to call your health care provider at any time if you have:

* Bright red vaginal bleeding
* Continuous leaking of fluid or wetness, or if your water breaks (can be felt as a "gushing" of fluid)
* Strong contractions every 5 minutes for an hour
* Contractions that you are unable to "walk through"
* A noticeable change in your baby's movement or if you feel less than 10 movements in two hours or less


This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. For additional written health information, please contact the Health Information Center at the Cleveland Clinic (216) 444-3771 or toll-free (800) 223-2273 extension 43771 or visit www.clevelandclinic.org/health This document was last reviewed on: 9/9/2002

The Cleveland Clinic 2004
9500 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH
This page is updated on May 11, 2013.



i can feel alot of pressure at times down my pelvic area , as if aye am going to pee it only last a few seconds what does that mean
i feel pain on abdomen a little stress on my back is this true labor pain or false
Contractions during 4th month of pregnancy. What should one do in this situation?
Please call your health care provider.
What are some false labor signs. It has happened to me four years ago and I don't want any false signs this time. Would really appreciate a response.