Updated: 2019, Aug 7

The Hidden Secrets between True Labor and False Labor

The Hidden Secrets between True Labor and False Labor

You’ve all heard the horror stories about the mother that was in the hospital three times before she actually went into labor.

So how are you supposed to know how to tell when true labor begins?

First let us answer the question of what false labor is –

As noted by WebMD, before ‘true’ labor begins, you may have ‘false’ labor pains. These are also known as Braxton Hicks Contractions. They are your body’s way of getting ready for the real thing – the day you give birth – but they are not a sign that labor has begun or is getting ready to begin. It has been otherwise noted that these ‘Braxton Hicks Contractions’ can begin to occur as early as the fourth month of pregnancy.

There is good news – these contractions ARE helping you get ready for delivery of your newborn. The thing is, it can be difficult to ascertain the difference between Braxton Hicks and the real deal.

Clue in on these following details provided by whattoexpect.com in dealing with and understanding false labor contractions

  • Braxton Hicks contractions can easily fool you into thinking labor has started. But even if you’re a week past your due date, you could still be having false labor contractions which are usually:
  • Irregular (they don’t happen at regular intervals)
  • Not progressive (they don’t get more severe, intense, or frequent with time)
  • Felt more in the lower abdomen, instead of the lower back
  • Responsive to a change in position or activity (if you change positions, they go away — so try lying down on your side to see if the contractions stop)
  • Accompanied by movement from your baby

According to babycenter.com – sometimes it’s very hard to tell false labor from the early stages of true labor. Remember that these contractions can start as early as the fourth month of pregnancy. If you’re 37 weeks along in gestation or further, here some things that might help you sort out the difference between false labor and true labor:

  • False labor contractions are unpredictable. They come at irregular intervals and vary in length and intensity. Although true labor contractions may be irregular at first, over time they start coming at regular and shorter intervals, become increasingly more intense, and last longer.
  • With false labor, the pain from the contractions is more likely to be centered in your lower abdomen. With true labor, you may feel the pain start in your lower back and wrap around to your abdomen.
  • False labor contractions may subside on their own or when you start or stop an activity or change position. True labor contractions will persist and progress not matter what you do.

Getting back to our original question – there are stages of true labor and birth –

Babycenter.com offers an extensive insight from the first stage of labor through birth.

The first stage begins when you start having contractions that cause progressive changes in your cervix and ends when your cervix is fully dilated. This stage is divided into two phases:

  • Early Labor – Your cervix gradually effaces (thins out) and dilates (opens).
  • Active Labor – Your cervix begins to dilate more rapidly, and contractions are longer, stronger, and closer together. People often refer to the last part of active labor as transition.

Accordingly, the second stage of labor begins when you’re fully dilated and ends with the birth of your baby. This is sometimes referred to as the “pushing” stage.

Finally, the third stage begins right after the birth of your baby and ends with the delivery of the placenta.

So, let’s back up –

What’s the difference between true labor and false labor? Perhaps this breakdown of Early Labor can help you decipher further:

Early Labor Details

As stated, once your contractions are coming at relatively regular intervals and your cervix begins to progressively dilate and efface, you’re officially in labor. But unless your labor starts suddenly and you go from no contractions to fairly frequent and regular contractions right away, it can be tricky to determine exactly when true labor starts. This is because early labor contractions are sometimes hard to distinguish from the inefficient Braxton Hicks contractions that may come right before hand.

It is important to note that if you’re not at 37 weeks and you’re noticing contractions or other signs of labor, don’t wait to see if your contractions progress. You should call your caregiver immediately to determine whether you’re in preterm labor. If you’re at least 37 weeks pregnant, your caregiver has likely given you instructions on how to track your contractions and when to call.

Furthermore, it can be difficult to tell exactly when early labor starts, so it’s often not easy to say how long this phase typically lasts – or even, after the fact, how long it lasted for a particular woman. The length of early labor is quite variable and depends in large part on how dilated and effaced your cervix is at the beginning of labor and how frequent and strong your contractions are.

By this time active labor should be setting in. Your contractions become increasingly intense – more frequent, longer and stronger – and you’ll no longer be able to walk through them.

Finally, toward the end of active labor, your baby may begin to descend, although he might have started to descend earlier or he might wait until the next stage.

But what triggers Braxton Hicks contractions? –

  • When mother or the baby are very active
  • If someone touches the mother’s belly
  • When the bladder is full
  • After Sex
  • Dehydration

What can you do to alleviate Braxton Hicks contractions?

Warm cup of herbal tea
  • Change positions. You can lie down if you have been standing or for a walk if you have been sitting or laying
  • Take a warm bath for 30 minutes or less
  • Because contractions may be brought on by dehydration, drink a couple glasses of water
  • Drink a warm cup of herbal tea or milk

Why do you have Braxton Hicks Contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions are contractions of the uterus that occur during the third trimester of pregnancy. They are perfectly normal and have been said to represent contractions that occur as the uterus is preparing to give birth. In some women, they occur as early as the second trimester.

When do you start feeling Braxton Hicks?

They start as early as 6 weeks, but are usually felt sometime around 20 weeks. Women who have had previous pregnancies may notice them sooner, and some women may not even notice them at all.

Don’t forget, at the onset of active labor, a woman’s contractions are five minutes apart (equaling 12 contractions per hour), and by the end, they are around three minutes apart, approximately 20 contractions per hour. The average of these is four minutes apart coming out to about 15 contractions per hour.

Also note that Braxton Hicks are not thought to have a role in dilating the cervix, but might have some impact on the softening of the cervix. However, as Braxton Hicks contractions intensify nearer the time of delivery, the contractions are often referred to as false labor. When this occurs, it can help the dilation and effacement process after all.

Remember that labor usually begins between the 37th and 42nd week of pregnancy.

It is noted that there is no exact formula to knowing when labor is going to start. But there are 6 things that need to happen before the baby is born according to wholisticbeginnings.com:

  • Cervix softens (ripening)
  • Cervix thins and shortens (effacement)
  • Cervix dilates (0 – 10 cm)
  • Cervix moves from back to front
  • Baby’s rotation, read flexes and molds
  • The baby descends from -5 to +5 through the pelvis

As always, with any symptoms you should always be in contact with your physician or midwife. Definitely call your health-care provider right away if you notice any of these signs before your 37th week of pregnancy:

  • More than five contractions per hour, or contractions that get longer, stronger and closer together
  • Abdominal cramps, pain or pressure
  • Lower back pain
  • Spotting, bleeding, mucous, or watery discharge from your vagina
  • Ruptured membranes – (water breaks)

These are signs of preterm labor and your doctor will need to do an exam to determine if your cervix has dilated or your water has broken. If it is determined that your cervix has dilated but not to full effect, you may be sent home and put on bed rest for the rest of your pregnancy.

Take final note that the symptoms of preterm labor are similar to the symptoms of labor that begins at term. It is important to pay close attention to the signs of your contractions to decipher whether you’re experience Braxton Hicks or True Labor.

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