How to Discern False Labor from True Labor - dummies

How to Discern False Labor from True Labor

By Joanne Stone, Keith Eddleman, Mary Duenwald

Distinguishing true labor from false labor isn’t always easy. But a few general characteristics can help you determine whether the symptoms you’re experiencing mean you’re in labor.

In general, you’re in false labor if your contractions

  • Are irregular and don’t increase in frequency

  • Disappear for any reason, but especially when you change position, walk, or rest

  • Are not particularly uncomfortable

  • Occur only in your lower abdomen

  • Don’t become increasingly uncomfortable

On the other hand, you’re more likely to be in actual labor if your contractions

  • Grow steadily more frequent, intense, and uncomfortable

  • Last approximately 40 to 60 seconds

  • Don’t go away when you change position, walk, or rest

  • Occur along with leakage of fluid (due to rupture of the membranes)

  • Make normal talking difficult or impossible

  • Stretch across your upper abdomen or are located in your back, radiating to your front

Sometimes the only way you can know for sure whether you’re in labor is by seeing your practitioner or going to the hospital. When you arrive at the hospital, your doctor, a nurse, a midwife, or a resident physician performs a pelvic exam to determine whether you’re in labor.

The practitioner also may hook you up to a monitor to see how often you’re contracting and to see how the fetal heart responds. Sometimes you find out right away whether you’re truly in labor. But the practitioner may need to keep you under observation for several hours to see whether the situation is changing.

You’re considered to be in labor if you’re having regular contractions and your cervix is changing fairly rapidly — effacing, dilating, or both. Sometimes women walk around for weeks with a partially dilated or effaced cervix but aren’t considered to be in labor because these changes are occurring over weeks instead of hours.