False Labor

image001As your due date approaches, you’ll find that the somewhat random and pain-free Braxton Hicks contractions become much more regular ones, more painful and happen at closer intervals. As such, you may feel as though you are going into labor, but this is in fact what’s known as ‘false’ labor, rather than the real thing. True labor involves contractions that become consistently stronger, longer and closer together, along with ongoing dilation of the cervix. It’s often difficult to tell the difference between the two, but knowing the signs of both true and false labor is very important.

What Are the Signs of False Labor?

It’s no easy job to say the least and the first time you go through it you might be convinced you’re in true labor. So if you’re heading toward your due date, take a look at the following and you’ll be in a much better position to identify the differences:

Signs of False Labor

  • Contractions experienced during false labor are irregular and unpredictable. They come and go, they very in intensity and there’s not specific pattern. With true labor, the same can also be said in the early stages but things quickly progress into a much more regular and intense pattern.
  • Another sign of false labor is the feeling of pain being localized mostly around the middle of abdomen. When true labor happens for real, you’ll feel the pain more around the bottom of your back to begin with and it will only then progress to your abdomen.
  • If changing position, standing up or generally moving in any way affects your contractions, then it is almost certainly false labor. With true labor, the contractions will not relent regardless of how you move.

What Do Braxton Hicks Contractions (False Labor Contractions) Feel Like?

One of the most common descriptions of Braxton Hicks Contractions likens them to the menstrual cramp most women are already familiar with. The sensation is one of tightness around the abdomen that happens randomly with no specific pattern and no sense of growing intensity. In addition, they are not usually particularly painful, they tend to go away or ease when changing position and don’t worsen when walking.

What Do True Labor Contractions Feel Like?

As for true contractions, the sensation tends to be different for each individual and so it’s much harder to pinpoint a definition. Generally speaking, the telltale sign is one of pain or discomfort that starts more toward the lower back and spreads around to the abdomen and pelvis. Aches to the thighs and sides are also very common. If the contractions become regular and grow in intensity from one to the next, there’s a strong chance it is true labor.

Table of Comparison—False Labor and True Labor

Difference Between False Labor and True Labor

Frequency of Contraction

False Labor – Irregular contractions that don’t become more persistent

True Labor – Contractions of 30 to 70 seconds that come at regular intervals with progressively smaller gaps between

How Strong Is It?

False Labor – Weak contractions that do not get stronger, or strong contractions that gradually get weaker

True Labor – Contractions that continue to increase in intensity

Change with Movement?

False Labor – Contractions stop or change if you move or change positions

True Labor – Contraction persist regardless of how you move

Where the Contraction Is Felt

False Labor – Pain is felt around the center of the abdomen

True Labor – Pain begins around the lower back and radiates around to the abdomen

Watch a video for one mother-to-be sharing her experience of false labor:

How to Deal with False Labor

If you’re getting close to your due date and you’re more than a little sick and tired of the discomfort of false labor, a few tip and tricks can help:

How to Deal


Change Position

It can often take something as simple as changing the position you sit, lay or sleep in to make the biggest difference imaginable. So before trying anything else, try this simple trick first.

Take a Walk

Another excellent way of dulling the discomfort is to take a walk. This is also a good way of determining whether or not it really is false labor as walking with true labor makes things a whole lot worse!

Take a Bath

The naturally calming and warming properties of a bath will soothe your aches and pains – even more so with a few candles and some aromatherapy.


The feeling of false labor can actually be brought on by dehydration, so make sure you’re getting enough to drink at all time.


Whether it’s meditation, massage or simple lounging around on the couch that does the trick, there’s so much to be said for the power of simple relaxation.

When to Call the Doctor/ Midwife

If you think you may be heading toward true labor, it’s imperative that you don’t take any chances – call your doctor or midwife immediately. If any of the following symptoms make an appearance, there’s a chance your false labor may in fact be the real deal:

  • Contractions occurring more than five times in each hour
  • Pain, pressure or tightness in your lower back
  • The feeling of pressure around the pelvis
  • Cramps similar to those during menstruation
  • Any bleeding or release of fluids
  • Additional flu-like symptoms, including diarrhea, vomiting and nausea

It is always better to be overcautious rather than complacent, so even if it’s just to discuss your symptoms and seek reassurance, you should feel free to call your healthcare worker at any time should you feel any signs of labor, false or otherwise. If on the other hand you are 100% sure it is a case of false labor, you have nothing to worry about and the discomfort will eventually subside.

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