Am in labour?


What about now??

Telling the difference between Real vs False labour can be frustrating and it’s one of the top reasons pregnant people present to my Labour and Delivery Triage Unit! Sometimes you think it’s go-time and then all of a sudden things change, the contraction pattern changes, and you’re not so sure anymore. So here are some ways to tell the difference between real labour and false labour.

False Labour

  • Contractions are generally mild. You most likely can talk and walk through them. You may feel more back discomfort, period-like cramps, or just your abdomen getting tight. 
  • Contractions are irregular. There is no consistent pattern or time between them and they can range from seconds to minutes to hours apart and will stay that way.
  • Contractions last a varying amount of time. They may last 10 seconds to two minutes and will continue to be irregular
  • Contractions will slow or change if you change positions. If you’re contracting away while walking, but as soon as you sit or lay down they stop to space out, it’s most likely false labour.

The thing to remember is to embrace the false labour! Just because it’s not the real deal yet, doesn’t mean that it’s not helping. Your cervix is like a banana – we need to ripen it before labour. This false labour can work on that softening and effacing that happens in the first stage of labour so when the real thing happens your cervix will be ready for dilation!

Real Labour

  • Contractions will most often start off mild, but build in intensity over time. They may start as cramps or low back pain but will progress to a more intense pain in your lower back or lower abdomen. They may start as a mild discomfort or cramp, but build overtime to the point where you have to stop what you’re doing and focus on your breathing as you move through the contraction. 
  • Contractions form a regular pattern. They will start far apart and over time progress closer together to form a regular pattern of a contraction every 2-4 minutes and stay that frequent.
  • Contractions will get longer and stronger. They may start off mild lasting 20 – 30 seconds, but as they get closer together they will last longer – generally 60 – 80 seconds and get stronger, and will stay with a consistent pattern.
  • Contractions won’t change if your position changes. Lying down and resting won’t make them go away as they did in false labour, and position changes may make them stronger at times. No matter what you’re doing your contractions will keep coming at the same length, strength, and pattern. 

Still not sure? That’s ok! This is most likely your first time and you don’t really know what labour will be like until you’re really in it. They key is to trust your gut!  If you’re not sure, speak to your healthcare provider, midwife, or go to your local birth centre for an assessment.

Other reasons to go to the hospital, even if you think you may be in false labour, are:

  • Bleeding like your menstrual cycle
  • Sharp intense pain with or without bleeding
  • Water breaking or leaking
  • Baby not moving 6 times in 2 hours
  • Or if you’re having difficulty coping with the contractions, even if they’re far apart.
  • Any consistent cramping or contractions under 37 weeks of pregnancy 

Want to know more about labour and birth, the difference between real and false labour, and how to cope in labour? Reach out to your local mama coach for a prenatal class.

Share this post

Are you looking for a prenatal class? Find a class here