Are They False Labor or Real Labor Contractions?

False Labor

It is really hard for first time moms to tell the different between false labor and real labor contractions.   During your third trimester, your body is getting prepared for birth. During this time, early labor contractions, also known as Braxton Hicks Contractions, are exercising your uterus and helping it prepare for childbirth.  This is important because your uterus has two very important jobs during childbirth.

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First, your uterus must work to open your cervix.  There are muscles in your uterus that circle around your uterus in a spiraling figure eight pattern.  They are important because they are responsible for dilating your cervix, so your baby can pass through your birth canal.   

The second thing your uterus has to do during childbirth is expel your baby. To do this, you uterus has an outer layer of muscles that run lengthwise from your vaginal area, up and over the top of your uterus by your diaphragm and back down the back wall of the uterus back to the vagina.  When these muscle fibers contract they push your baby down and out of the uterus.  Your uterus can actually expel your baby even if you unconscious, but you help with the process by leaning forward and bearing down during these pushing contractions.  

As you can imagine, if you're in a squatting position with the pressure of your ribs and your upper body pushing down on the top of your uterus, the part of it that's closest to your lungs, that actually helps your uterus expel your baby. At the same time, it opens up your pelvis 15% more than any other position and makes it much easier for your baby to find its way out the birth canal and underneath your pubic bone. 

False Labor Contractions Prepare Your Uterus for Birth

False labor contractions are actually strengthening and preparing your uterine muscles for birth. It's like going for a daily jog in preparation for big running race. If you are relaxing, you may or may not feel False Labor contractions. Also known as Braxton Hicks contractions, these contractions may occur for a couple weeks before you even notice them.  

One way you may notice your first Braxton Hicks contractions is if you suddenly feel your stomach get hard.  Meaning, if you poke your stomach, you notice that your stomach is hard, where normally you could poke in and your skin would give way a bit.  

What's really funny is, at the start, false labor contractions won't be across your entire stomach; one part of your stomach might be hard, while the other isn't. It can vary.

For me, one side of my uterus, sometimes the left, other times the right would suddenly get tight.  Other times it was the top of my uterus or the bottom.  If I was paying attention while lying on my side, I would suddenly notice my stomach jump off the bed and stick out without me doing anything.  At first I thought it was my baby moving!  

If you notice that your belly is feeling tight and if your skin feels particularly tight, like all of a sudden you're tapping it and it's more like a drum than smooshy you may be experiencing false labor contractions. And then if you notice that at other times, it's looser; that's an indication that you're starting to have some pre-labor contractions and that your body is preparing for childbirth.  

From the point of view of Braxton Hicks contractions, you need to know that they're good for you. Not only to they help your uterus prepare for birth, but they are also helping your baby prepare for birth. 

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Preventing False Labor from Turning into Real Labor Too Early

One of the things you do want to avoid is going into labor prematurely. 

There are a few things that are just known for triggering premature labor in women, particularly in working women who have a lot of stress:

  • Getting dehydrated 
  • Not getting enough protein 
  • Your baby's decides that it wants to be born because it's not getting the nutrition that it needs You are suffering from low blood volume and developing toxemia or pre-eclampsia
  • If you are not getting enough rest, or if you are moving around too much, that will often stimulate Braxton Hicks contractions. 

If you notice that you're having a lot of False Labor contractions, what you should do is drink a big glass ow water and then have a protein snack or nutritious meal.  If you haven't eaten for a while, that can actually cause early labor contractions. 

Braxton Hicks Shower

Another thing you can do to determine if you are going into labor or just having false labor contractions is to change activity.  So if you are running around, stop to lie down and rest. Take some time to rest and get your feet up. Rest on your side, and have a nap. Soak in a nice warm bath or shower.  

These actually are excellent things to do if you're concerned that you actually might be in premature labor or early labor as opposed to just having Braxton Hicks contractions because False Labor contractions come and go.   

If you find that you're having regular contractions over a period of time, like every 10 minutes for a couple of hours, that's actually a sign that you're going into labor or having a labor warm-up. Not all women have labor warmups.  

Labor warmups are when you go into early labor for a few hours and then it stops.  

Early labor is when you are having contractions that typically last less than a minute and occur more than ten minutes apart.  By the way, it's only premature labor if you're less than 40 weeks pregnant. 

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Tell me quick!  What should I do to figure out if this is false labor or real labor?

If you feel like you might be going into labor prematurely and if you want to determine if you're in labor versus just having warm-up contractions, the things to do are to eat, drink water, and notice to see if that makes a difference.

Change activity! Rest if you're noticing you're having a lot of contractions and see if that stops them. 

A Few Last Tips for Dealing with Braxton Hicks Contractions

One of the wonderful things about pregnancy yoga is you really do practice deep abdominal breathing where you envision the air going all the way down deeply into your lungs as you picture your belly button expanding off of your back. Try doing deep abdominal breathing and see if the contractions stop. 

Do cat stretches. They are another excellent way to move differently and determine if you are having false labor. Taking pressure off your abdominal area and oxygenating the area will often slow down early labor contractions.  

What if I’m Less Than 40 weeks Pregnant and The Contractions Don’t Stop?

If you notice that you are having regular contractions and it's early, contact your midwife or OB because they will want to track how often you're having contractions and how intense they are. 

They will usually ask you a series of questions like if your contractions change if you move or stop moving.

Typically, they'll also want to check you to see if you're starting to dilate it all. If you are going into labor and its early, they have medication they can give you to slow it down or stop it.

Why False Labor is a Good Sign!

Braxton Hicks contractions are something that all women will experience during their third trimester and are a great sign that your body is preparing for labor.