I can’t begin to tell you how many first time mothers make trips to the labor and delivery unit thinking they are in labor when in fact they are just having a spell of Braxton-Hicks. The look of excitement and anticipation is universal to each mom, while their husband has their 6 suitcases and bags piled up beside their triage bed. We can spot these women a mile a way. They smile nervously and hold their bellies while they have a contraction. They’ll say to the nurse, “Oh, this is a strong one!” while carrying on a conversation on their cell phone to their friends and family to inform them that they are at the hospital.
And we (the nurses) think, “Ya, right sista!” Many times our report to the resident will be something like “Here’s another wannabe primip (first time mother)”. After their evaluation, you can see their hearts sink. Some will fight to stay. Some will leave with their bags with embarrassment.
Here are some ways to help distinguish real labor versus false labor:
- False labor will have no distinguishable pattern. Contractions may come and go at different intervals. Contractions may go from 6 minutes apart, to 12 minutes, to 20 minutes, then back to 6 minutes apart. They may even stay at a specific interval for a while, but eventually will peter out after a while, or at least space themselves.
- False labor contractions will not typically increase in intensity over time. Your contractions could last 2 hours, but none of them will get stronger than the previous. Sometimes they will lessen over time.
- If you eat, drink, or go for a walk and the contractions space out or go away, it’s false labor.
- If you lay down to rest, contractions will lessen in intensity or go away if it’s false labor.
- True labor contractions will become longer, stronger and closer together over a period of time (for some over an hour while others over many hours).
- No matter what you do, contractions just keep on coming. The walking, eating, drinking, and resting don’t do diddly squat for what you are feeling.
- Real labor will not pass you by. Trust me. Even if the beginning of your labor starts off like false labor it will change and you won’t miss it.
Every provider has their own preferences as to when you should call them if you think you are in labor. In my classes, we use the guideline of contractions that are every 5 minutes apart for the last hour OR if the contractions are so intense or painful that you are having a hard time talking or breathing during them. But again, make sure you know what your provider wants you to do. There can be other variables that would determine when you go to the hospital, like any pregnancy complications or potential problems, distance to the hospital, or if you’ve had a very quick labor previously.