False Labor and Pregnancy: Are My Contractions Real?


As the time of delivery approaches, there might be Braxton Hicks contractions which may become more frequent and intense. It is very common for women to think that they are experiencing actual labor and proceed to the hospital or call the doctor to learn that it was a false alarm or false labor. These irregular uterine contractions are perfectly normal and might start to occur from the fourth month of pregnancy.

In this article:

How Long Can False Labor Last?
Does False Labor Lead to Real Labor?
What Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Feel Like?
What are the Signs of True Labor?
How Do You Stop False Labor Pains?
How to Know True Labor?
When to Go to the Hospital?

All You Need to Know about False Labor and Pregnancy

How Long Can False Labor Last?

Braxton hicks contractions can start anytime after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but become noticeable only in later pregnancy. Starting with minor discomfort, they may increase to mimic labor pains and have been known to cause false pain alarms among many pregnant women.

false labor and pregnancy

These contractions usually cause less pain as compared to true labor and no fixed frequency at which they occur. They are akin to the menstrual cramps and some women experience a tight sensation in the lower portion of the abdomen.

However, as the pregnancy progresses, the strength and frequency of the contractions keep on changing too. Braxton hicks contractions at 30 weeks can last between 30 seconds and two minutes.

Does False Labor Lead to Real Labor?

True labor can be distinguished from false labor by effects such as the frequency and strength of the contractions. False labor contractions may be erratic in terms of both time and intensity. Often, false labor contractions are felt mostly in the front of the uterus. If the contractions stop when using the bathroom, drink water, change positions or lie down when they are probably not the real thing.

The key difference is that real labor contractions tend to occur at regular intervals and get closer together as time goes on. Generally, contractions during labor last about 30-60 seconds, getting longer as labor progresses. Also, they increase in intensity, don’t change with movement or position and are often felt in both the front of the body and the back.

Therefore, real labor contractions occur at regular intervals and get closer together as time goes on. These kinds of contractions often require the full focus to get through them including concentrated breathing. labor contractions may also be accompanied by increased vaginal discharge or spotting which is a good sign that the cervix is dilating.

What Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Feel Like?

When Braxton Hicks contractions start, there is a feeling of general tightening or squeezing together of the labor abdominal area and uterus followed by moments of relaxation, before the next contraction begins which are easily identifiable due to their irregularity and their sporadic occurrence. These contractions can get quite uncomfortable and could cause an alarm situation to pregnant women.

What are the Signs of True Labor?

True labor is preceded by pre-labor, a series of physical changes that last almost a full month and the changes are the beginning of cervical dilation and effacement, the descending of the fetus into the pelvis, a sensation of much more pressure on the pelvis and rectum, increase in number of Braxton hicks contraction and many more all of which are integral in preparing the body for labor.

True labor contractions are much stronger, more painful and more frequent.

How Do You Stop False Labor Pains?

To minimize the chances of undue stress with repeated hospital visits for what turns out to be false labor, the following can be done to minimize it –

  • First note the characteristics of the contractions, the regularity, the intensity, and the timing.
  • Locate the seat of the pains, narrow down on where they are originating from.
  • Practice breathing exercises. It will help even if it is false labor as it gets better prepared for real labor
  • Move around and try to find a good seating or lying position, if the pains subside, good and if they don’t, then keep timing them.
  • Inform the birth support partner, they can help you keep track of the contractions and talk to down the panic if it is just false labor.

How to Know True Labor?

  • labor pains get more intense with more activity and also don’t get better by changing positions.
  • labor pains begin in the lower back, they then spread to the lower abdomen and sometimes radiates to the legs.
  • The pains sometimes mimic a stomach upset and are accompanied by diarrhea.
  • There is no set rule for patterns of labor as may vary for women but in general, contractions become more frequent, painful and more regular. Each contraction may not be more painful than the last one, but over time there is a definite increase in the pain level.
  • Membranes break and the water breaks, either as a tickle or a gush.

When to Go to the Hospital?

True labor pain and fake labor pain are frequently confused and have many women rushing for the hospital unnecessarily. It can be tough to tell apart true labor and false labor but there are a few differences that can help distinguish.

  • When the having contractions, track them. If occurring at irregular intervals, not getting more frequent or intensity is low, it is probably false labor
  • If the pain is confined to the lower abdomen or back, might be false labor.
  • If pains get better by changing position, then probably false labor.
  • There are brownish streaks that can be easily distinguished from the bloody display of real labor which is pinkish and blood-streaked.
  • If there are no changes in fetal movements in response to the contractions, it is probably true labor as false labor typically intensify fetal movements briefly during contractions.


Never feel shy about running to the hospital or calling the doctor in advance to ask for answers to any of the doubts regarding labor.