Oh man, the contractions are coming hard and heavy, you think it’s the real thing. You head to the hospital only to find out that they disappear as soon as the nurse puts the monitors on and you head home. Ready to call off the troops. Dejected, and still pregnant. False labor pains can be deceiving. The thing is, they totally hurt. I prefer to call them “practice labor” — as it truly is your body just getting ready for the real thing.
As a labor nurse of 15 years, I’ve certainly sent a lot of women home and had many talks on false labor pains.
How do you know if they are false labor pains, or if it’s the real deal? Here are 4 ways to tell and make sure you’re feeling the real thing:
False Labor Pains
Are often stopped by water.
If you’re starting to contract, I always recommend getting 2 GIANT glasses of water ASAP and see if that quiets it. The majority of preterm contractions and false labor pains are caused by dehydration. Easily solved.
**Keep in mind that false labor often isn’t getting you any closer to having a baby. I have had patients who want to have their baby, so they stop drinking. It doesn’t work that way. You’re in pain with no reason. Drink up!
Often occur only in one area.
You’ll feel them just in your back or just in your belly, but they won’t really radiate through your whole torso. As labor progresses those pains tend to start at one spot, but then radiate through your whole belly/back area. Fun. 🙂
Isn’t accompanied by any of the other signs of labor.
If you’re ONLY having contractions, but no stomach involvement, no change in discharge — that could be false labor too.
Is often early labor
It might well progress into real labor. Those contractions could get more intense and frequent, include your whole torso. It could certainly be the early stages of the real thing.
Labor is termed by when your cervix is opening. SO, you could be having super painful contractions, but if they aren’t opening or thinning your cervix that would be considered either early labor or false labor.
There really is no telling how long false labor pains last. It’s up to your body when it’s ready to let go of that baby (but drinking tons of water can certainly help!). I have a great page answering the big question: Am I in Labor?
As always, you shouldn’t be having more than 6 contractions in an hour before 34 weeks — so if you’re still early and feeling them, be sure to call your doctor. Also, at your next appointment, be sure to ask your healthcare provider how many contractions are OK or what you should do if you find yourself in labor.
And, as always, don't take the advice of anything you read here (or frankly, anywhere on the internet) over the advice of your doctor. I'm just a nurse, trying to give out some good info. Please take responsibility for yours and your baby's own health.
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And don’t forget that I have a full chapter on labor in my super popular prenatal class. Don’t let your busy schedule get in the way of understanding what will go on in the labor room!
Other delivery tips posts you might find helpful: