4 Differences Between False Labor and Labor Contractions

Distinguishing false labor from true labor contractions is one of the doubts of pregnant women. Here are 4 important differences.
4 Differences Between False Labor and Labor Contractions

Last update: 13 February, 2022

You’re approaching the end of your pregnancy, labor can come at any time. Contractions appear, but are they real labor contractions? Or false labor contractions? Today, we’ll give you the definitive signs to tell them apart.

When does labor start? How do I know if I’m in false labor or the contractions are actually a sign that I should go to the hospital now? Many women find it stressful to decide whether or not labor has arrived. Distinguishing one type of contraction from another is important, so it’s normal to be afraid of not knowing how to do it.

We want to explain how you can distinguish between false labor and labor contractions.

Types of contractions

There are six general types of contractions, although we can divide them into the following:

False contractions. These are contractions that aren’t part of labor, although they may have a previous function in labor.

  • Training contractions. Approximately from the eighth month, oxytocin levels will begin to increase and progesterone levels will begin to decrease. You’ll begin to notice small contractions, called Braxton Hicks contractions, which prepare your uterus for the expulsive movements that will take place.
  • Prodromal contractions. These appear in the last two weeks of pregnancy and are characterized by being responsible for the expulsion of the mucus plug and for effacing the cervix. They last between 15-20 seconds and are felt in the lower abdomen or groin.
A pregnant woman lying in bed having contractions.

Labor contractions. Those that give way to labor as well as those that occur after delivery.

  • Dilation contractions. True labor contractions. They’ll last about 20 seconds at first, and from there, they’ll intensify and come faster and faster. When they occur every ten minutes, it’s time to go to the hospital.
  • Transitional contractions. The baby’s already moving down the birth canal. The contractions are prolonged, lasting a minute and a half, and with a constant frequency.
  • Expulsion contractions. These are the most intense and long-lasting, but they’re the ones that help your baby come out. Once they’re through, you’ll have less painful contractions to expel the placenta.
  • Postpartum contractions. These occur the next day. They feel like cramps and are caused by the repositioning of your internal organs.

How to distinguish false contractions from labor contractions?

There are certain signs that can help you distinguish between false labor and labor contractions. Here are the main ones:

Pain

  • False contractions are often uncomfortable, rather than painful. Your belly will tighten up, but a change of position can help them go away.
  • Labor contractions, on the other hand, are painful. The abdomen also stiffens, although in this case, the pain doesn’t go away when you walk or change posture.

Frequency

  • False contractions aren’t rhythmic. Although Braxton Hicks contractions may increase in frequency as the due date approaches, they don’t follow a constant pattern.
  • Labor contractions are rhythmic. You’ll notice them more and more frequently, and you’ll feel each contraction last longer than the previous one.
A woman on a hospital bed experiencing contractions.

Location

  • In false labor contractions, the discomfort is felt in the lower abdomen.
  • True labor contractions are usually felt as a pain that starts in the back and moves to the lower abdomen.

Intensity

  • False contractions usually last no longer than 15-20 seconds.
  • Labor contractions can last up to 90 seconds in the moments leading up to delivery.

In case you notice that the contractions you’re experiencing are painful and match those of labor, be aware of your due date: You may be going into premature labor.

First of all, you should keep in mind that every woman is different. There are women who don’t notice the false contractions and there are those who already feel them with pain. Don’t worry, whatever your case, you won’t be the only one, and of course, if you feel any pain that makes you feel insecure, go to the hospital. The medical team will assess whether you can go home because it was a false alarm or if it’s time to help your baby be born.

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