What is false labor?

This means that you're probably experiencing Braxton-Hicks contractions, or practice contractions that help ripen the cervix to prepare you for delivery. They're not a sign you're in active labor. Stay home, keep your bags packed, manage the pain with showers, deep breathing, and taking walks. If you're unsure, call your provider, especially if late at night (measured in single digits)—she's there to guide you through this major step. Hospitals will typically only admit you if you're 3 cm dilated and there's less than 2 minutes between the end of one and start of another contraction (we're measuring from start to start), so it's usually best to manage the early labor at home. If you do go to the hospital and get turned away, don't be embarrassed or disappointed. Go home and hop in the tub.

YOU: Having a Baby: The Owner's Manual to a Happy and Healthy Pregnancy

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YOU: Having a Baby: The Owner's Manual to a Happy and Healthy Pregnancy

Can I get a cavity filled while pregnant? Will avoiding spicy foods make my kid a picky eater? Can I really increase my baby's IQ while she's in utero? Whether you're pregnant for the first time,...
Paula Greer
Midwifery Nursing Specialist

False labor pains are often Braxton Hicks contractions that have become more uncomfortable and mimic labor pains which confuses the expectant couple. False labor pains are inefficient contractions of the uterus that may appear a month before term. They are irregular and short and are often felt more in the front than in the back. They do not get closer together or increase in severity like real labor contractions. Walking or changing position or level of activity will not increase the intensity of these contractions. The cervix doesn’t usually change and there is no bloody show. These are great practice contractions. You can use your relaxation and deep breathing techniques when you are experiencing an episode of false labor to practice for the real thing. Unfortunately if you have too many of these in the middle of the night mom can become exhausted. Drinking fluids and soaking in the tub may help. It is important that the expectant mom stay well rested and well hydrated at this time in her pregnancy. Any concerns should be discussed with her health care provider.

Dr. Deborah Raines, MSN
Nursing Specialist

False labor is a term often used interchangeable with Braxton-Hicks contractions. During false labor, the pregnant woman experiences irregular, intermittent tightening or contraction of the uterus. Characteristics of false labor are contractions that:

  • begin and remain irregular in frequency, intensity and duration
  • are felt in the abdominal area and remain localized to the abdomen or groin
  • are prone to disappear with a change in maternal activity
  • do not result in cervical change
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Delivering a baby can take hours or days. Watch as Dr. Oz goes through the stages of birth in an animated video about how a woman gives birth to her baby.

Many women, especially first-time mothers-to-be, think they are in labor when they are not. This is called false labor. "Practice" contractions called Braxton Hicks contractions are common in the last weeks of pregnancy or earlier. The tightening of your uterus might startle you. Some might even be painful or take your breath away. It is no wonder that many women mistaken Braxton Hicks contractions for the real thing. So do not feel embarrassed if you go to the hospital thinking you are in labor, only to be sent home.

This answer is based on source information from the National Women's Health Information Center.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.