False vs. Real Labor: Do You Know the Difference?

During the final weeks of pregnancy, you may have contractions. But these contractions don't really signal the start of labor. These cramps are called false labor, or Braxton Hicks contractions. 

Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular. They don't get closer together. They often go away when you walk around, rest, or change position. Contractions due to real labor tend to be regular, get closer together, get stronger, and continue even with position changes, rest, or movement.

To tell real labor from false labor, time the length of your contractions. This is the time from the start of one contraction to the start of the next contraction. Also note the time between them. Call your healthcare provider if your contractions meet the following:

  • Last at least 30 to 70 seconds

  • Occur at regular intervals, about 5-7 minutes

  • Don't go away if you lie down

Also call your healthcare provider if your water breaks. You should call even if you're not having contractions. Write down the time it happens. Go to your labor and birth facility if any of the following things happen:

  • You’re bleeding vaginally and it’s more than spotting.

  • Your contractions are five minutes apart or closer. If your healthcare provider gives you different guidance, go when he or she says to.

  • You’re in steady, severe pain.

Online Medical Reviewer: Bowers, Nancy, RN, BSN, MPHFoley, Maryann, RN, BSN

Date Last Reviewed: 4/12/2016

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