Will I know when it’s really labor?

How to distinguish between true and false labor contractions.

pregnant-womanDuring the stages of a woman’s pregnancy, there are times of worry and excitement. From surviving morning sickness to feeling the baby move, your body goes through a lot of changes. It’s a roller coaster ride that will end as you hold your new baby. Before that wonderful embrace, let’s remember the baby must first come out.

Towards the end of my first pregnancy, I remember getting so comfortable with the baby inside of me, I was nervous about what would happen when it came time for her to come. I remember thinking, “What will contractions feel like and will I know when it’s really labor?”

You’ll Know When It’s Real Labor

To help us crack the contraction code, Dr. Mark Beaird, Director of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Division in Waco at Hillcrest, offers some suggestions.

“The first thing that indicates real labor, is the combination of frequency and intensity,” he said. “Most likely, you’ll know. It’s going to be a very distinct change.

I remember hearing those reassuring words, “You’ll know.” But for some reason, I was still a little anxious. I did not want to be stuck somewhere wondering if I should go to the hospital.


As a bit of relief, Dr. Beaird says you shouldn’t put that pressure on yourself. “Patients don’t have to take on the responsibility to decide if they’re in real labor at home. It’s easy enough to call their doctor or come in to be checked.”

The Difference between True and False Labor

To help you know what to expect, here is a quick overview between true and false labor contractions. With this guide from Dr. Beaird, it may be easier to detect when you’re experiencing real labor.

True Labor
False Labor
Contractions get closer together Contractions don’t get closer together and are irregular.
Contractions are more intense and get stronger as time passes. Contractions don’t get stronger.
Each contraction gets more uncomfortable and may become painful. Aware of the contractions, but not too uncomfortable.
Contractions are coordinated and tend to be felt all over and may start in your lower back before wrapping around to your abdomen. Contractions tend to be felt only in isolated muscle groups or in your lower abdomen.
No matter the change in position or reduction in activity, contractions are persistent. Resting, changing positions or taking a hot bath helps relieve discomfort.
Cervix opens and thins with contractions. Cervix doesn’t change with contractions.

Keep in mind that every woman and every baby is unique. Some may notice these symptoms, and others will not. Dr. Beaird also mentions that false labor is very normal. The body is preparing to have a baby, and contractions throughout a pregnancy are very normal.

He adds, “However, if you’re having more than four contractions per hour at less than 34 weeks, we feel that’s suspicious for pre-term labor and we want you to come in to be seen.”

Remember, It’s an Exciting Time

As you approach the end of your pregnancy, don’t forget to congratulate yourself on how far you’ve come.

“This is a real exciting time in the patient’s life. As obstetricians it’s an honor and privilege to share this with our patients,” says Dr. Beaird. “It’s really a great opportunity we have to participate and provide guidance, support and direction.”


About the author

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I contribute content and skills as a freelance writer for Baylor Scott & White Health. I enjoy improving our connection with our readers, patients and communities by assisting with a wide range of writing projects.

5 thoughts on “Will I know when it’s really labor?”

  1. Thanks its awesome am pregnent now and suffering now I only know its stil false labor , pray for me pls

  2. As a mother of five children, I can really appreciate this wisdom! Every pregnancy is different and no one wants too many “false alarms” at the hospital…
    So well written with helpful information. I especially love the roller coaster analogy that ends up with a beautiful baby in your arms!

  3. Don and Hilde Taylor

    Your article was happy and informative.  What a fun way to get information.  Thank you Scott & White Healthcare and a huge Thank You to Jill Taylor!

  4. Jill, thank you so much for your post! I’m not pregnant, but I have always wondered if I would know what real labor is. Thanks for your insight! 🙂

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Will I know when it’s really labor?