Labor or Not? How to Know if it’s Really Go Time

I had 2 very different experiences with each of my daughters. For my eldest, I was sitting at my desk, using my laptop, when my water erupted. Briefly, I’d considered peeing my pants, but that was just too much liquid. When I stood up, more water gushed out of me, and I knew immediately that the baby was coming.

With my youngest, I remember lying in bed and feeling a contraction. For you, new mamas, think of it as feeling like a bad cramp during your period. So, I felt this, and I glanced at the clock. I dozed off and felt it again, noting that 15 minutes had elapsed. Like a perfectly-timed stopwatch, my contractions were coming every 15 minutes at that point.

Knowing what I’d endured with my eldest, which was hours of waiting to dilate enough, being in pain, and constantly being examined by a team of people, I didn’t understand only to have to go in for an emergency c-section, I took my time. I took a shower. I relaxed. And in the morning, I told my husband he should call his parents and have them come over so we could go to the hospital.

Big difference because the first time around, we ran around like chickens with our heads cut off!

Don’t forget to take a look at these labor signs when it is just about 24-48 hours away.

Note that:

We all have different experiences, which will guide you through some of your biggest questions about labor. Obviously, if your water breaks like mine (very rare), you will need to get to the hospital quickly. You may be waiting a while in your hospital bed, but you must get there.

But for many of you, you may experience what’s known as false labor. I will answer all your questions about that, so keep reading!

Does false labor lead to real labor?

First, let me talk to you about what false labor is. It’s a bit of a strange bird. Medically termed as prodromal labor, it basically IS labor, but it starts and then stops before the full labor process actually begins. So, the contractions you feel are real, but labor won’t progress from them.

The thing is since it feels like labor and you’ll have the contractions regularly, but they start and then stop. They also tend to come on about the same time every day. They really might make you think you’re in labor.

False labor doesn’t always lead to real labor, though. While it can start anytime a month before (or even earlier) than your due date to weeks or even days, you should keep calm and look for the signs of labor. You may have slow cervix dilation during false labor, so it’s vital to know those labor signs.

So, what are those signs?

  • Loose stools near your delivery date
  • The baby has dropped down into the pelvis (called lightening)
  • Your cervix is ready (your doctor will note this in your weekly checkups before the delivery)
  • Increase in discharge
  • More Braxton Hicks experiences (I’ll talk about those shortly)
  • Water breaking (from a gush like I experienced to a slight trickle)

How long does false labor last?

pregnant woman having pain

As I mentioned above, it can certainly feel like the real thing. But the key is timing. And even if you ARE in actual labor, you’ll want to try to keep calm and watch the clock. You’ll feel some contractions, but if it’s false labor, those contractions will vary in length and intensity.

Real labor contractions will last for over 30 seconds when they start and then get longer progressively until they’re about 60 seconds.

So, it’s not just about watching the clock and seeing how often they’re coming. It’s paying attention to the intensity, length, and other signs of true labor.

What is the difference between false labor and real labor?

According to the American Pregnancy Association, the differences between false and real labor make it a bit easier to tell when compared.

You’ll want to look for:

Regularity in contractions – They should be consistent, as I described above. If they’re irregular and unpredictable, it’s false labor.

Try moving around – During false labor, a change of position can slow your contractions down or stop them altogether. Real labor will still be there despite this.

Look for the blood – You’ll see the bloody show when you’re in real labor. Otherwise, you’re not there yet.

Note where the contractions take place – In true labor, you’ll feel pain high up in your abdomen that radiates through your entire abdominal area and lower back. It may also start in the lower back and power on forward. False labor often stays in the groin and lower abdominal area.

What are false contractions?

And finally, I want to touch on false contractions or Braxton Hicks as they are known. False labor is sometimes mistaken for these kinds of contractions, which are nothing more than your body’s way of preparing for the real thing.

They will feel very tight and uncomfortable. The difference is that they have no regularity and are not intense. Another key clue that it’s Braxton Hicks contractions is that they will go away if you walk around the room, drink water, eat something, or simply relax.

Don’t forget that…

Braxton Hicks can happen even months before your due date. Try not to be alarmed by any of it…I know, easier said than done! Now that you know all these signs of labor and what to look for, you’ll be better prepared to know when to grab that hospital bag and go.

And should you really not know, it’s better to be safe than sorry and call your doctor. Don’t be embarrassed if it turns out to be a false alarm. Even mamas that have had many births have been fooled by it. Your doctor isn’t laughing at you, and if you’re healthy and so is the baby, that’s all that matters!

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