Signs of False Labor vs. Signs of True Labor

woman holding her pregnant belly

If you're approaching your due date, it's helpful to understand the signs of false labor. Even though you're probably very anxious to have your little one arrive, it's not always easy to tell when you're truly in labor.

About Braxton Hicks Contractions

False labor contractions are often referred to as Braxton Hicks contractions. These are normal uterine contractions that can begin as early as the second trimester of pregnancy, although they are much more common in the third trimester as your due date approaches. The contractions are thought to be your body's way of preparing for childbirth and are part of the process of effacement of the cervix.

Most women describe Braxton Hicks contractions as only mildly uncomfortable and say a nap or a quick snack often relieves the discomfort. However, if your due date is near, it can be easy to confuse these contractions with the start of true labor.

Recognizing the Signs of False Labor

First-time mothers often worry about how to recognize the signs of labor simply because they've never been pregnant before. Since every pregnancy progresses differently, however, even a woman who already has two or three children can experience a "false alarm" when her due date approaches.


When you're experiencing false labor contractions, your pain is probably concentrated in your groin and lower abdomen. You may describe the contraction as a generalized abdominal tightening. In true labor, however, the contractions tend to begin high in the abdomen and radiate throughout your lower back.

Inconsistent Length

You've probably heard that you should time the length between your contractions. However, you should also time the length of the contractions themselves. True contractions will be about 30 seconds in length at the beginning of labor and increase to about 60 seconds in length as labor progresses. False labor contractions will vary in length and have no identifiable pattern.

Lack of Progression

Obviously, true labor results in the birth of a baby. Therefore, contractions will get increasingly uncomfortable and closer together. In false labor, there is no progression. Contractions will occur at random intervals and levels of intensity.

Stopping with Activity

False labor contractions may diminish or disappear completely if you try walking or some other form of activity. In some cases, simply shifting your sitting position may be enough to halt the contractions. If you're truly in labor, your contractions won't stop until your baby arrives.

Signs of True Labor

Once you've recognized the signs of false labor, you may be wondering what indicates you are truly in labor. It's different for every woman, but the following signs are fairly reliable indicators:

  • You've seen your mucus plug or have some bloody show.
  • You're having soft bowel movements.
  • Contractions are impossible to ignore.
  • You have lost your appetite.
  • You are no longer able to walk or move much during your contractions.

Staying Safe

Regardless of how you answer the questions above, you should contact your healthcare provider if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms with your contractions:

If you've reviewed the signs of false labor and you're still not sure about your contractions, it's best to be safe and call your healthcare provider or go to the hospital for a quick check up. Don't be embarrassed if it turns out to be a false alarm; your doctor has likely had hundreds of patients go through the same thing! It's better to be cautious than to risk waiting too long to seek medical care.

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Signs of False Labor vs. Signs of True Labor