How to differentiate false contractions from labor contractions

Different types of contractions occur throughout pregnancy , with different characteristics and functions. Today we will delve a little deeper into the subject and talk about something that worries pregnant women a lot: how to differentiate false contractions from labor contractions .

Depending on how the contractions are, it can be assessed whether labor has started or not. The frequency, intensity and duration of the contractions are parameters that help determine that the moment has come.

Every woman is special when it comes to giving birth. Some women hardly feel labor contractions, while others may have contractions for several days before labor begins. What is certain is that for there to be a vaginal birth there must be dilation of the cervix and this occurs thanks to contractions.

The false contractions are also called Braxton Hicks contractions in honor of the English physician who first described at the end of the nineteenth century. They are contractions of the uterine muscle that occur sporadically, although as the pregnancy progresses they become more and more frequent. Their main difference from labor contractions is that they do not cause pain, although they can cause discomfort, especially towards the end of pregnancy.

How to differentiate false contractions from true ones

Towards the end of pregnancy, a week or two before giving birth, Braxton Hicks contractions become more intense, and can occur rhythmically but not regularly. That is, there may be three or four contractions with discomfort and sometimes even pain at similar but intermittent intervals. It is not increasing its intensity, nor its duration, nor its frequency.

These contractions are known as antepartum (or prodrome ) contractions. They are annoying, but they are not rhythmic or regular and their function is to erase and soften the cervix prior to dilation. If you change position, rest, walk or take a relaxing bath, the contractions disappear or are relieved.

In contrast, true labor contractions are increasing in intensity (between 30 mmHg and 50 mmHg), occurring every regular periods with a frequency of 3 to 5 contractions every 10 minutes. Its duration is also increasing. When you are in labor, there are at least 2 or 3 intense contractions lasting approximately 40 to 60 seconds every 10 minutes.

Another sign that can help identify each other is where the contractions are felt. The false ones are usually felt in the lower abdomen and in the groin, while the true ones begin in the back and radiate forward, extending towards the lower part of the abdomen.

Signs that labor has started

Labor contractions, in addition to being rhythmic, progressive and intense , are usually accompanied by other signs that indicate that labor has begun. These are the symptoms of childbirth such as the expulsion of the mucous plug , the rupture of the amniotic bag and the dilation of the cervix.

However, the expulsion of the mucous plug is not a sign of imminent labor, but it does mean that the neck has begun to dilate. In some cases, the plug is expelled a few days before labor contractions start, while in others it is not expelled until the moment of labor.

The rupture of the bag , on the other hand, is an unequivocal sign that labor will occur in the next few hours, however, not all pregnant women break their waters in the same phase of labor. It can occur before true labor contractions start, or it may not occur until the time of delivery.

The dilation of the cervix is, unlike the previous two, a sign that the pregnant woman cannot verify herself. For labor to begin, the neck must have reached 3-4 centimeters in dilation.


Sometimes it is difficult to determine when the false contractions that you have had throughout the pregnancy, especially those that occur towards the end of the pregnancy, become true labor contractions . The important thing is to pay attention to them to learn to identify their duration, their intensity and their frequency.

It is recommended that at this point you record how your contractions are with the help of a clock and a notebook or a contraction counter . This will make it easier for you to control them and you can better inform your doctor.

If you detect that you are having labor contractions, or if you feel abdominal cramps, increased pressure in the pelvis, have blood or amniotic fluidleaks , you should go to the hospital.

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