True Labor versus False Labor: Am I in labor?

Am I in labor?

Pregnant woman unable to sleep.
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A hot topic in everyone's mind is, 'Will I know when it's really labor?'

Usually, childbirth educators and practitioners try to ease your mind with the standard answer of, 'You'll know.'

And while you will know, it's nice to have some ideas ahead of time of how to know if this is really labor.

First of all your body normally gives you some signs of labor ahead of time that labor is on its way. While these are signs of progress the do not mean that you will go into labor within a few hours or days.

They are simply a means of saying that your body is getting ready to give birth.

Some of these signs of labor include:

Some women notice these symptoms and while others do not, either way, is perfectly normal. You should not worry if you do not notice these signs. Your body is simply preparing in a different manner. They may also change from baby to baby, so what you experienced the first time may not happen the second time.

Rupture of Membranes (Water Breaking)

Sometimes labor begins with the bag of waters or membranes rupture, about 12% of the time.

However, 75% of the time this does not happen until very late in labor, usually after 9 centimeters. If your water breaks you may notice a near constant trickle of fluid from the vagina or a sudden gush. You should talk to your practitioner about when to call about your waters breaking before you reach the end of your pregnancy, but you should definitely notify them if you experience the following:

  • Fluid is not clear, but green or brownish
  • You have a fever
  • You feel something pulsing in the vagina (If you feel this put your knees to your chest on the floor and call 911, you may have a prolapsed cord.)

It is important to not place anything inside the vagina after your water has broken, so avoid intercourse, baths, and vaginal exams.

Getting to the Place of Birth too early

Some women will make trips to the hospital or birth center, believing they are in labor, only to be sent home. This is nothing to be worried about. It can happen to anyone, no matter how many children that you've had.

Sometimes you've just gotten there and you aren't as dilated or as far along as you thought. Most of the time you can go home to labor more in comfort and return after the contractions have picked up.

All's well that ends well.

Everyone experiences labor in a different manner. What you experience may be totally different from what you have read about. Trust your body. This preparation may seem to take forever, but your body and baby are making very important changes in preparation for the birth!

Remember, that technically, true labor ends with the birth of the baby. That is the one sure fire test of real labor.


The Labor Progress Handbook. Simkin, P and Ancheta, R. Wiley-Blackwell; 2 edition.

Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. Gabbe, S, Niebyl, J, Simpson, JL. Sixth Edition.

False LaborTrue Labor
Contractions don't get closer together.Contractions do get closer together.
Contractions don't get stronger.Contractions do get stronger.
Contractions tend to be felt only in the front.Contractions tend to be felt all over.
Contractions don't last longer.Contractions do last longer.
Walking has no effect on the contractions.Walking makes the contractions stronger.
Cervix doesn't change with contractions.Cervix opens and thins with contractions.

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