False Labour Vs Real Labour – How To Spot The Difference

Labour is an event that gives rise to both joyful anticipation as well as a fear of labour pains. The last trimester is a time when women and their families frequently jump the gun and rush to a hospital when they feel that the mom-to-be’s labour pains have started. While most of them are actual labour pains, at times, it is just a series of contractions called Braxton Hicks contractions. The panicking and rushing about can be unnecessary and stressful so educating yourself on the same can prove to be useful.



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

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

Many women in their last trimester rush to the hospital 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?


  • These contractions generally painless, though uncomfortable
  • 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
  • Foetal movements increases as the contractions come.

What Do True Labour Contraction Feel Like?

True labour is preceded by pre-labour, a series of physical changes that last almost a full month. The changes are the beginning of cervical dilation and effacement, the descending of the foetus in to the pelvis, a sensation of much more pressure on the pelvis and rectum, increase in number of Braxton Hicks contractions and many more – all of which are integral in preparing the body for labour.


Labour contractions are much stronger, more painful and more frequent.


  • 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, they then spread to the lower abdomen and sometimes radiates to the legs.
  • The pains sometimes mimic a stomach upset and are accompanied by diarrhoea.
  • There is no set rule for patterns of labour which are the same for all 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 trickle or a gush.

Difference Between True and False Labour Pains

True labour pain and false labour pain are frequently confused and have many women rushing for the hospital doors unnecessarily. False labour pains are also difficult to differentiate from preterm uterine activity which sometimes comes before premature labour. 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, your uterus is flexing its muscles and gearing up for delivery. The contractions can be as short as 30 seconds and last as long as 2 minutes. These contractions may get more frequent and intense as you approach full term. They also occur frequently during the period of prelabour.


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

How to Tell Whether it is False Labour or True Labour?

True labour pain and fake labour pain are frequently confused and have many women rushing for the hospital doors unnecessarily. 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. How does one recognise the signs of true labour vs. false labour?


  • 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 seat of your pain, is the pain 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.
  • There are brownish streaks if any on the underwear which can be easily distinguished from the bloody display of real labour which is pinkish and blood streaked.
  • If there are no changes in foetal movements in response to the contractions, it is probably real labour. False labour pains typically intensify foetal movements briefly during contractions.

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.

Never feel shy of 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.