Real vs. false contractions

By Published On: April 30th, 2010

I’ll admit it. The first time I headed to the […]

contractionsI’ll admit it. The first time I headed to the hospital to give birth (or so I thought), I was completely convinced that the pulling pains in my abdomen were a sure sign I was about to welcome my baby to the world. A few hours later, I was sent home empty-handed, with the sad news that I was barely dilated and not having any “real” contractions at all. Apparently those telltale tugs I was feeling were nothing more than the same Braxton Hicks contractions I’d been noticing for weeks, only on a slightly more intense scale. It would be almost another full week before my labor truly began.
I’m not the only person I know who has headed to the hospital prematurely—it can actually be pretty tough for a first-time mom to differentiate between true and false contractions. If your due date is looming and you’re not sure how to know when it’s the real thing, read on for some helpful advice.
Real labor vs. false labor
While early Braxton Hicks contractions are essentially painless, they might become stronger and more frequent in the last weeks of your pregnancy, making it difficult to tell when actual labor begins. Here are a few good indications of the real deal:

  • Your contractions become more rhythmic. If you can time your surges—even if they’re still 20 minutes apart— labor and delivery might be in your near future.
  • The frequency of your contractions increases. Gone from every 20 minutes to every 10? That’s a good sign!
  • Your contractions strengthen in intensity. Pay attention to see if your pains are consistently deepening—if you are really in labor, you should be able to tell that the tightening is steadily progressing with each contraction.
  • The duration of your contractions lengthens. If the twinges are lasting longer with each pull, your uterus is likely preparing for the big event.

Time to go
Most doctors advise that you head to the hospital when your contractions last about 60 seconds each and are five minutes apart; however, check with your OB before your due date to see what he recommends. If you haven’t yet reached 37 weeks gestation or are considered high-risk and feel like you might be in labor, don’t hesitate—call your doctor.
It can be tough to tell when real labor has arrived (especially when you’re so ready for it!), so if you call your hubby home from the office and head to the hospital only to find out that gas pains can get serious, fret not. It happens to the best of us. Besides, it’s really great practice for getting to the hospital when your labor day finally does arrive. Good luck!