True vs. False Labor

Your Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy

Before “true” labor begins, you might have “false” labor pains, also known as Braxton-Hicks contractions.  These irregular uterine contractions are perfectly normal and might start to occur from your fourth month of pregnancy.  They are your body’s way of getting ready for the “real thing”.

What do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like?

Braxton Hicks contractions can be described as tightening in the abdomen that comes and goes.  These contractions do not get closer together, do not increase with walking, do not increase in how long they last or how often they occur, and do not feel stronger over time.

What do true labor contractions feel like?

The way a contraction feels is different for each woman and might feel different from one pregnancy to the next.  Labor contractions cause discomfort or a dull ache in your back and lower abdomen, along with pressure in the pelvis.  Some women might also feel pain in their sides and thighs.  Some women describe contractions as strong menstrual cramps, while others describe them as strong waves that feel like diarrhea cramps.

So how do you know when your contractions are the “real thing”?

  • Contractions come at regular intervals and get closer together as time goes on.
  • Contractions continue, despite moving or changing positions.
  • Contractions steadily increase in strength.
  • Contractions usually start in the lower back and move to the front of the abdomen.

What should I do when I have Braxton Hicks contractions?

  • Take a walk.  False labor contractions often stop when you change position or get up and walk.
  • Get some sleep or rest.
  • Listen to relaxing music.
  • Drink water, juice or herbal tea.
  • Eat a snack or small meal.
  • Get a foot or hand massage from your partner.
  • Ask someone to massage your back and shoulders.
  • Got to your favorite place in your home and slowly relax each part of your body.
  • Watch a movie.

As your contractions get stronger:

  • Take a warm shower or tub bath.
  • Rock in a rocking chair.
  • Change positions often.
  • Ask your partner for some positive feedback.
  • Rest between contractions.  Imagine yourself relaxing in your favorite vacation spot.
  • During contractions, take in slow, deep, easy breaths.
  • Sit on a chair and lean forward.
  • Ask your partner to press firmly on the area where you feel the greatest pressure or pain.
  • Get on your hands and knees and arch your back then flatten it and repeat several times.
  • Try warm or cold compresses on your lower back.
  • Ask your partner to try rolling a beverage can, tennis ball or rolling pin on your lower back.

It is essential to call your health care provider at any time if you have:

  • Bright red vaginal bleeding
  • Continuous leaking of fluid or wetness, or if your water breaks (can be felt as a “gushing” of fluid).
  • Strong contractions every five minutes for an hour.
  • Contractions that you are unable to “walk through”.
  • A noticeable change in your baby’s movement or if you fell less than 10 movements in two hours or less.