Am I really in labor? When you’re 9 months pregnant with your first baby, it’s so exciting. It’s hard not to just rush to the hospital at the first sign of contractions. Alas, much of the time, those first few contractions are actually “false labor” and are simply a sign that your body is warming up and exercising those pelvic and abdominal muscles in an effort to prepare for the real deal.

Also, many hospitals today have strict parameters about how long labor should last. They feel that no more than 24 hours should go by between your first signs of active labor and a beautiful, crowning baby head. Thus, women who go to the hospital too soon are at greater risk for having unnecessary medical interventions in an effort to facilitate their labor.

Learn the Difference Between False Labor & Real Labor

The following tips will help you learn the difference between false labor, real labor, and real labor that has progressed enough that it’s time to contact your doctor or midwife.

Is it your first baby? If so, know that you will probably experience a longer labor than normal. This is because your body has never done this work before. First labors are typically slower so there is no need to rush if your water hasn’t broken, your contractions are further than 6 minutes apart and/or if there aren’t other obvious complications that are giving you cause for concern.

Learn to time those contractions. Labor contractions are determined by their frequency and duration. Frequency measures the time (in minutes) between your first contraction and the beginning of the next contraction. Duration measures the time (in minutes) from the beginning to the end of the same contraction. So, your doctor will want to know the frequency and duration of your contractions.

Usually, Overlake recommends heading to the hospital or birthing center when your contractions have reached a 5-1-1 or 4-1-1 ratio.

  • 5-1-1: Your contractions are coming every five minutes, they last for one minute or more, and this frequency and duration has continued consistently for one solid hour.
  • 4-1-1: Your contractions are coming every four minutes, they last for one minute or more, and they have continued consistently at this ratio for one solid hour.

You should check with your doctor to see which ratio he or she prefers. If you are a first-timer, odds are they’ll say to wait until you’re at the 4-1-1 point. If it’s your second or third baby, the 5-1-1 ratio is probably the one they’ll go by since you are apt to progress more quickly.

Know the difference between false labor and real labor. False labor, also called Braxton-Hicks contractions, is different than real labor in several ways.

When you are in false labor:

  • The contractions will typically ease up or start altogether if you change positions, get up and walk around, or lay down.
  • Your water doesn’t break.
  • There is no bloody show (blood stains or pink-tinged mucous) on your underwear or toilet paper.
  • Contractions never progress to a point where you can’t carry on a conversation or move around freely.
  • Your cervix doesn’t dilate.

When you are in real labor:

  • Your contractions will continue to progress in duration and frequency whether you sit down, lie down, walk around or stand on your head.
  • You may experience bloody show (do keep in mind that bloody show can occur days before your contractions really kick into high gear).
  • Your water will eventually break, or you may feel like you are continually wetting your pants if there is a small amniotic leak.
  • You may see evidence of blood or pink-tinged mucous on your underwear or toilet paper.
  • Your cervix will continue to dilate.

If you notice any real labor signs, it’s a good idea to contact your healthcare provider and check in. Find out more about prenatal care, labor and deliver by contacting Overlake OB/GYN.