Contractions: How To Tell The Difference Between Real And False Labour

Contractions: How To Tell The Difference Between Real And False Labour

At the tail end of your pregnancy, every bump, twitch, flow, and pain, can make you think, is this labour? Followed quickly by, should I go to the hospital?

During the last trimester, your body starts to prepare for birth. This can be a confusing time and up-and-down hormones don’t help. Knowing when you’re in labour and when to go to the hospital in labour could help you feel more confident in the final few weeks. We explain below the types of contractions and how to tell the difference between real and false labour.

Types of Contractions

When To Go To Hospital

Contractions can come throughout your pregnancy, or just in your labour first stage, and it’s important to know the difference between real contractions and Braxton Hicks contractions. – there’s nothing worse than bundling yourself off to the hospital just to be sent home after a false alarm.

Braxton-Hicks Contractions

Braxton-Hicks contractions can start anytime from the fourth month of pregnancy. The contractions are usually a painless tightening of the abdomen. And are usually infrequent and irregular. They are also a form of exercise for the uterine muscles to get them ready for the D-Day.

Braxton-Hicks contractions usually come up when you're tired, dehydrated, or you've been standing for a long period of time. To ease the contractions, you can try sitting down or lying down (if you're lying down, do so on your left side). And drink plenty of water.

If the contractions don't stop and seem to be getting more frequent, you should probably call your doctor and find out if you are having preterm labour. Here's how you can find out if you are at risk of preterm labour.

Preterm Labour Contractions

Regular contractions occurring before 37 weeks could be taken as signs of preterm labour. Regular contractions could be spaced 10 to 12 minutes apart. And when the contractions occur, your belly would feel hard to touch and you'd also feel your uterus tightening.

Other signs include:

  • Change in vaginal discharge (it could become more watery or bloody)
  • Pressure in your pelvis like your baby is pushing down
  • A dull backache
  • Cramping

If you notice any of these signs/symptoms, you should call your healthcare provider right away!

Labour Contractions

When true labour starts, the contractions last longer, get stronger and happen at shorter intervals. This time around, drinking water or resting isn't going to work to ease things up. At this point, the contractions are working to dilate your cervix.


At the onset of true labour, the intervals between contractions will still be a bit far apart and could last between 30 -90 seconds.

When you get to the transition stage, the contractions will become more intense. You would probably feel each contraction wrap around your body, moving around your torso all the way to your abdomen. At this stage, your contractions may be lasting for about 45 -60 seconds and occur every five minutes. If this happens to you, you probably want to start heading to the hospital.

Other signs of labour onset include your water breaking and a show of mucus discharge, which could also be bloody. Your waters breaking can feel like a light trickle or a sudden gush.

By the time you're about 7 - 10cm dilated, your contractions will probably be lasting 30 -90 seconds with an interval of 30 seconds to two minutes in-between. There may even be an overlap as your body prepares to push.

If you're worried about the pain you can actually manage it by Breathing And Relaxation For Pain Relief During Labour.

Difference between false and true labour contractions
Braxton-Hicks True labour
Happen irregularly and don't become regular They occur at regular intervals
Do not get closer with time Get closer with time
Sometimes strong, sometimes weak Get stronger over time, you may not even be able to walk
When you move around, lie down or drink water, they may stop Do not stop when you change positions, move around or drink water


Contractions: How To Tell The Difference Between Real And False Labour

Make yourself comfortable

Labour is a long and tiring process. Here are a few ways you can keep comfortable while waiting to go to hospital:

  • keep fluid levels up
  • move around slowly to relieve the pain
  • try breathing exercises
  • get your birth partner to rub your back

Research suggests that women will have a more positive labour if they stay at home during the early stages. Remember labour can go on for a while. So make sure you’re comfortable, try to move about, keep hydrated and load up on snacks. Giving birth can be harder than running a marathon!

When you notice the signs of labour, remind yourself you can do this. Childbirth is natural and your birth partner and midwife are here for you every step of the way. Remember, it’s not long now until that precious moment when you meet your new arrival.

When to go to the hospital in labour with your second baby

That’s right, there can be a difference in labour with your first and second baby, and it’s not just your state of mind. In general, your second labour will progress faster and won’t require quite as much pushing (great news!). It is also common for women having their second baby to go into labour sooner, often before their due date, so be prepared.

Source: Healthline, MarchofDimes

Also read: Labour Signs: How To Know When Baby Is On The Way

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