False Labor: Sign, Causes And How To Ease It

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As your due date approaches, you begin to guard for every possible sign of labor, thinking if it is real labor or just a mock drill. However, differentiating between real and false labor is quite difficult because some signs and contractions are identical in both scenarios. Therefore, it’s critical to distinguish fake labor so you don’t stress out every time you have one or dismiss actual labor as simply another instance of your body’s mock drill. This post explains the indicators of erroneous labor signs and tells you the differences between false and real ones.

What Is False Labor?

False labor pains, also known as Braxton Hicks contractions, are a precursor to true labor. They can occur as early as the fourth month but become frequent as your due date approaches. These contractions signify false labor as there is a pain but no dilation of the cervix.

However, the false labor does not occur in every pregnant woman. But if you do have contractions before your due date, then it is good to know whether or not they are false (1).

What Are The Signs Of False Labor?

Pregnant woman timing contractions

Image: Shutterstock

Here are a few signs to identify false labor (2):

  1. Irregular contractions
  2. Tightening in the abdomen
  3. No water break. If you notice any leakage of fluid that smells like ammonia, then it is urine and not amniotic fluid (it is odorless).
  4. Occurs a few times in a day, and towards the later stage, it can occur every 10 to 20 minutes.
  5. No bleeding

As mentioned above, not every woman will go through false labor, but in certain cases, you are more likely to experience them.

What Triggers A False Labor?

Pregnant woman climbing stairs

Image: Shutterstock

False labor often starts due to (1):

  • Physical activities like climbing stairs
  • Sexual intercourse
  • Full bladder when you wake up in the morning
  • If you are dehydrated or have a fever
  • Your baby’s movements in the uterus or stress to fetus
Point to consider
Being very active and lifting heavy weight may also trigger false labor (7).

So, how do we differentiate between false and true labor? Let’s see how each one of them feels.

How Do Braxton Hicks Or False Labor Contractions Feel Like?

Pregnant woman worried about false labor

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Braxton Hicks contractions feel like a muscle tightening in your abdomen or a squeezing sensation in the lower abdomen and the groin. These contractions do not continue for long; they neither get stronger nor closer with time (3). If these contractions are felt towards the last weeks of pregnancy, they indicate that your true labor is not very far.

Quick fact
Braxton Hicks contractions usually last about 15 to 30 seconds, but may continue as long as two minutes, at times (8).

How Do True Labor Contractions Feel Like?

The contractions of true labor are an ache or discomfort in your back and in the lower abdomen. You may experience pressure in the pelvic area. In some pregnant women, the pain is felt in the thighs. It comes at regular intervals and then gets closer and stronger over time. Each contraction lasts for 30-70 seconds (4).

contraction calculator

By now, you may have noticed that there are subtle differences between false and true labors. Let us see a few more pronounced differences between them.

What Is The Difference Between True And False Labor?

The following chart will help you figure out the differences (5):

Signs True labor False labor
Frequency of contractions Contractions occur at regular intervals. They get closer over time They are irregular and do not get closer
Intensity of contractions The frequency and intensity of contractions increase with time, irrespective of any activities Contractions may get weaker or stronger depending on your activities or change in position
Time of contractions Last for 30-70 seconds and progressively increase Vary in length
Center of contractions The contraction starts in the lower back and moves to the abdomen The contraction centers in your lower abdomen and groin
Change in cervix The cervix is dilated Does not cause dilation of the cervix
Vaginal discharge (bloody show) Slightly pinkish or bloody discharge from vagina due to cervical changes No discharge

By keeping a close watch on the above-mentioned differences, you can identify the type of labor pain you are experiencing at that point. False labor can be a real discomfort during the last weeks of pregnancy, but you can ease the pain.

Tips To Ease A False Labor

Pregnant woman drinking water

Image: Shutterstock

Here are some tips to help you overcome the uneasiness (1):

  • Go for a walk
  • Change positions while lying down
  • Take rest or change activity levels
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Take a warm bath to relax your body
  • Get a massage done
  • Relax reading book or listening music
  • Take a nap
Quick tip
Drinking a cup of warm herbal tea or milk may help alleviate false contractions (8).

The pain should subside with these simple measures. However, if the contractions are regular and do not decrease even after your efforts, then see a doctor.

When To Call The Doctor?

It is important to contact the doctor if you notice (6):

  • vaginal bleeding in bright red color
  • continuous leaking of fluid or water break
  • contractions felt every five minutes for more than an hour
  • any significant change in the baby’s movement, such as less than 6-10 movements in an hour
  • inability to walk due to contractions

As you approach the last trimester and your due date, the thought of delivery may excite and worry you. However, the false labor contractions you experience during this stage may accelerate your anxiety. Hence, the above methods would help you distinguish between false and true contractions. Usually, the frequency of the contractions is an indication. However, note that not all women may experience these Braxton Hicks contractions. Hence, look for the other accompanying signs such as water breakage, the regularity of the contractions, and cervical changes. If you’re unsure about the contraction, you can always call your obstetrician and report the symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can false labor cause dilation?

No. False labor may lead to the ripening of the cervix to a certain extent but does not cause dilation.

2. What is silent labor?

Silent labor is when the would-be mother does not realize that she is in labor.


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