Many women, especially first-time mothers-to-be, think they are in labor when they're not. This is called false labor.
"Practice" contractions called Braxton Hicks contractions are common in the last weeks of pregnancy or earlier. The tightening of your uterus might startle you. Some might even be painful or take your breath away. It's no wonder that many women mistaken Braxton Hicks contractions for the real thing. So don't feel embarrassed if you go to the hospital thinking you're in labor, only to be sent home.

So, how can you tell if your contractions are true labor?

Tip:Time them. Use a watch or clock to keep track of the time one contraction starts to the time the next contraction starts, as well as how long each contraction lasts.

Contraction CharacteristicsFalse LaborTrue Labor
How often do the contractions occur?Contractions are not in a regular pattern, and they taper off and go away.Contractions become regular, stronger, and more frequent.
Do they change with movement?Some women find that a change in activity, such as walking or lying down, makes Braxton Hicks contractions go away. Contractions continue despite movement or changing positions
How strong are they?Contractions are usually weak and do not get much stronger. Or they may be strong at first and then get weaker.Contractions steadily increase in strength.
Where do you feel the pain?Contractions are usually only felt in the front of the abdomen or pelvic region.Contractions usually start in the lower back and move to the front of the abdomen.

Even with these guidelines, it can be hard to tell if labor is real. If you ever are unsure if contractions are true labor, call your doctor.

Return from Braxton Hicks contractions to Giving Birth

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