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Towards the end of your pregnancy, it’s easy to think that every ache in your back and twinge in your belly could be an initial sign of labour. So, how do you tell the difference between false labour and the real thing? Here’s what you need to know!

What are the signs of false labour?

False labour, also known as prodromal labour or pre-labour, usually presents as contractions that vary in strength, frequency and duration. During false labour, you may experience some of the following symptoms:

● Irregular or unpredictable contractions (for instance, inconsistent intervals between contractions of eight minutes, two minutes, ten minutes, etc.).
● Contractions that do not progress in intensity or frequency.
● No evidence of a ‘bloody show’.
● Changing positions or activity causes contractions to slow down or stop.
● Felt more in the abdomen than lower back.

False labour vs. true labour

Generally, true labour contractions become stronger, last longer and get closer together as labour progresses. They can also be difficult to walk or talk through. However, if you begin to experience contractions and suspect it may be a case of false labour, consider the following questions:

How frequent are your contractions?

Record your contractions and mark the time when each one begins. With real labour, contractions develop into regular patterns and get closer together. With false labour, they will remain irregular and continue to vary in frequency.

How long does each contraction last?

Time the beginning and end of each contraction. If they last longer than 30 seconds and get progressively longer (up to 60 seconds), you are likely experiencing true labour. Conversely, false labour contractions continue to vary in duration.

Do the contractions continue if you change position or activity?

True labour contractions will continue regardless of your activity. They may even increase in intensity as you walk or move around. False labour contractions may cease or slow down when adjusting your position or movement.

Where do you feel the contractions?

If you’re experiencing real labour, the pain may begin high in your abdomen, radiating through your entire abdomen and lower back, or vice versa. (This can differ for each person.) You may also experience a dull backache, pelvic pressure, wave-like cramps and the tightening and hardening of your belly. False labour contractions are generally felt in the lower abdomen and pelvic region.

When should I call my midwife or doctor?

If you’re in doubt or feel concerned about any pre-labour or pregnancy symptoms, it’s always best to contact your healthcare provider. Talk them through what you’re feeling, and they will be able to advise you on the next step and whether it’s time to head to the hospital. Remember that signs of labour can vary from person to person, so in the case of any concerns, your doctor or midwife is always the best person to ask.