False Labor or the Real Thing -- What's the Difference?

 False LaborFalse contractions, known as Braxton-Hicks, might have first shown up for you back in the second trimester, but now have become a consistent, and at times, unwelcome house guest.

The Braxton-Hicks "gang" could have even had you heading to labor and delivery, only to be told to "go home; you're just experiencing false labor." Frustrating, isn't it?

The contractions become more intense and frequent as your due date approaches. Amanda, a pregnancy.org member chimes in with her experience. "I'm exhausted and still pregnant. I've had lots of 'practice' contractions the last few weeks, but they never settled into a pattern or were intense enough to interfere with my daily life."

Braxton-Hicks aren't here just to make you angry or uncomfortable. They signal that you're body's gearing up to have a baby. A first-time mom will more than likely have one to three days of contractions before active labor kicks in. Second-time moms experience several sessions that can be hours or days apart.

Some women's healthcare professionals, like Peggy Simkin, recommend calling these contractions that appear close to your due date "pre-labor" rather than "false labor." She says that while they may not immediately lead to progressive labor, they are certainly real contractions. Pregnancy.org's midwife, Cynthia Flynn says that "true labor" results in cervical changes; "false labor" doesn't.

During a Braxton-Hicks contraction, the uterus tightens for 30 to 60 seconds beginning at the top of the uterus. The contraction gradually spreads downward before relaxing. Although said to be painless, these contractions can be quite uncomfortable and hard to distinguish from the contractions that cause cervical changes.

You might be wondering how you can tell these contractions from the real thing. These tips, suggestions and questions can help you figure it out!

Recognizing Pre-Labor Contractions

How often do the contractions occur?

True labor develops into a regular pattern, with contractions lasting 30-70 seconds apart and growing closer together.

During pre-labor contractions vary in length and intensity.

Do they change with activity?

The contractions in true labor continues regardless of activity and grow stronger with increased activity such as walking.

Pre-labor contractions might stop when you walk or rest or even change positions. They'll usually stop regardless of activity.

How strong are your contractions?

True labor contractions steadily increase in strength.

Pre-labor contractions usually are weak and don't increase in strength. They might begin intense, but then get weaker.

Where do you feel the contractions?

In true labor, the contractions are more intense. The pain tends to begin high in your abdomen, radiating throughout your entire abdomen and lower back, or it might start in your lower back and move to the front of your abdomen.

In pre-labor the contractions are typically concentrated in the front of the abdomen and the pelvic area.

Contacting Your Provider

If your Braxton-Hicks or pre-labor contractions get longer, stronger and closer together, even if they don't hurt, and you have more than four in an hour, it's a good idea to check-in with your provider and let her/him know what is going on," pregnancy.org 'Ask the Midwife Expert,' Cynthia Flynn says.

In contrast, if you're having Braxton-Hicks or pre-labor contractions, you don't need to do anything unless you're uncomfortable. Some moms maintain that these early "practice contractions" shortened their time in active labor. Has that been your experience?

Staying Comfortable During Pre-Labor

Braxton-Hicks can be a frustrating and miserable experience. If you're hurting, one or more of these tips could help you be more comfortable while you're waiting for the active labor to start.

Get some sleep or rest. We often mention in our other articles about how important it is to be well-rested. Now is the time to take that advice.

Relax. Don't worry about what might or might not happen in the future. You only need to deal with what is happening now. Now is a good time to use that pregnancy massage gift certificate you've been saving.

Drink water. Being hydrated helps your body work properly and that includes your uterus. Have a glass of ice water, lay down with a good book, and see if those pesky contraction ease up. If they don't, it could be time to make a phone call.

Eat a snack or small meal. You'll want to have energy on board for later on, so as long as your midwife or doctor hasn't asked you to stick to just liquids, enjoy a healthy snack. Some women feel sick to their stomach when these contractions start up. Try to have a few bites of yogurt or sip a smoothie if you're not able to eat.

Every contraction brings you closer to the birth of your baby. Are you ready? Take this time to pre-wash your baby's clothes, pack your birthing bag or talk with a friend about the responsibilities of caring for a new baby. Sometimes getting past the stress allows your body move on with labor.

Mentally accept and welcome stronger contractions. You need these real contractions to help get the job done. Talk with your body even if you feel silly doing it. Remind it how strong and well-equipped it is for birthing your baby.

Let go and trust your body. Remind yourself that your body is doing what it needs to do, even if it's taking its own, sweet time.

Quiet Time. If you're spiritual or religious, another way to spend time is in prayer, meditation, or reading your favorite pieces. Anything that is inspirational and keep your mind off the pain will probably be welcome.

Did you suffer through the Braxton-Hicks contractions? What helped you to feel more comfortable? Share your tips!