False Labour Vs Real Labour – How to Spot the Difference

False Labour Vs Real Labour – How To Spot The Difference

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Sanjana Sainani (Gynecologist/Obstetrician)
View more Gynecologist/Obstetrician Our Panel of Experts

Labour is an event that gives rise to both joyful anticipations as well as a fear of labour pains. The last trimester is the time when women and their families frequently jump the gun and rush to the hospital when the moms-to-be experience labour pains. While most of them are actual labour pains, at times, it is just a series of contractions called Braxton Hicks contractions.

If you are in the third trimester, panicking and rushing about can be unnecessarily stressful to you and your family. Educating yourself on false and real labour can prove to be useful to save a lot of energy, which you will need during childbirth. In this article, we shall focus upon what each of these contractions is and how you can identify them. Read on to know more.

Video: False Labour vs Real Labour – How to Tell the Difference Between the Two?

What Does False Labour (Braxton Hicks Contractions) Feel Like?

Many women rush to the hospital in their last trimester when they feel tightening and hardening of the uterus assuming labour pains have started, only to return home after being informed condescendingly by smug medics that this was just false labour. So, what do false labour pains feel like?

  • The contractions are not regular, nor do they increase in frequency or severity as time goes by.
  • The pain recedes if you change your position or if you walk around.
  • The pain is in the lower abdomen, not in the lower back.

What Does Real Labour Feel Like?

Real labour is preceded by pre-labour, a series of physical changes – the beginning of cervical dilation and effacement, the descending of the foetus into the pelvis, a sensation of much more pressure on the pelvis and rectum, increase in the number of Braxton Hicks contractions, etc. All these symptoms are integral in preparing the body for labour. Also, real labour contractions are much stronger, more painful and more frequent.

Here are some more signs that will help you know if your labour pain is real.

  • Labour pains get more intense with more activity. They also do not get better if you change your position.
  • Labour pains begin in the lower back, then spread to the lower abdomen and sometimes radiates to the legs.
  • The pain sometimes mimics an upset stomach and may also be accompanied by diarrhoea.
  • There is no set pattern of labour pains, 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 level of labour pain.
  • Membranes break and the water breaks, either as a trickle or a gush.

Now that you know what real and false labour pains feel like, you have probably figured out some difference between the two. But, you must be aware of the main differences to be sure about the kind of contractions you’ll experience when you’re inching closer to the due date. In the next section, we talk a little about the core differences between real and false labour.

Difference Between Real and False Labour Pains

Real labour pain and false labour pain are frequently confused and have many women rushing for the hospital doors unnecessarily. 

So, what is the difference between the two?

False labour is your body’s way of rehearsing for the main event to come. It can happen at intervals from the 20th week. That’s when your uterus flexes its muscles and gears up for delivery. The contractions can be as short as 30 seconds and last as long as 2 minutes.

Real labour precedes delivery, progresses from mild contractions to full-blown labour pains, and culminate in the birth of the baby.

In spite of knowing the difference, it might still be difficult for you to figure out whether it is a false labour pain you are experiencing or a real one. So, how can you tell that? Let’s find out!

How to Tell Whether It Is False Labour or Real Labour?

It can be tough to tell apart true labour vs false labour, but there are a few differentiators that can help you distinguish between the two.

  • When you have contractions, track them. If they are occurring at irregular intervals, and are not getting more frequent or if their intensity is not increasing over time, it is probably false labour pain.
  • Narrow down on the location of your pain to know if it is confined to your lower abdomen or your lower back. If it is your abdomen, it might be false labour pain.
  • Do the pains get better if you walk around, change your position, or if you perform everyday activities? If yes, then it is probably just false labour.
  • If you see a brownish or reddish mucous plug on your underwear, then it means your real labour pains might start.

Since all pregnancies are different, you may still find it difficult to identify if you are having real or false labour pains. There are certain things you can do to confirm if the labour is real or false.

What to Do If You Have Contractions?

To minimise the chances of undue stress with repeated hospital visits for what turns out to be false labour, let us tell you what to do if you have contractions:

  • Firstly note the characteristics of the contractions, their regularity (or lack thereof), their intensity and the timing (how far apart they are).
  • Locate the seat of the pains, narrow down on where they are originating from.
  • Practice your breathing exercises. It will help even if it is false labour as you get better prepared for real labour pains.
  • 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 your birth support partner; they can help you keep track of the contractions and talk you down from panic if it is just a false labour pain.

We hope this information helps you when you feel contractions, either real or false. Having said that, never feel shy about running to the hospital or calling them in advance to ask for answers to any of your doubts regarding labour. In the long run, your embarrassment because of panic is transient; you will laugh over it when you hold your healthy baby in your arms.


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