At this stage of your pregnancy, you may already be familiar with braxton hicks contractions.
Braxton hicks are painless, irregular uterine ‘practise’ contractions, which are experienced by some women from around the fourth month of pregnancy.
They can become more frequent and stronger as your pregnancy progresses.
False labour is another pre-labour contracting sensation that you may experience.
However, unlike Braxton Hicks contractions, false labour pains occur within days or weeks of the baby's due date.
It's common for first time mothers — and not unusual for second time mothers — to confuse false labour contractions with the real deal.
Around 20% of first time mothers experience false labour in the days leading up to the birth. False labour is actually more common in second pregnancies — these women may experience a number of separate incidents of false labour.
Even if it only happens once, false labour pain can be quite frustrating! So let's reframe false labour.
False Labour Pains – Nothing False About It
You've waited nine long months (or more!) to meet your baby, so it's understandable to feel disappointed when you find out that you're not in active labour.
Firstly, it's time to ditch the name, because false labour is a bit of a downer. Pre-labour (that's a much better name, isn't it?) is actually really important. False labour sounds like you still have to start labour from scratch. But pre-labour means your body is starting to get ready for the main event.
So don't be disheartened if you have bouts of pre-labour, it means you're nearing the finish line. Real labour could start in hours, days or maybe a couple of weeks. But what's important is that your body is starting to prepare itself for the process of labour. Your uterine muscles are warming up for the work out of a lifetime.
Pre And Early Labour
Before labour starts, the cervix is around 1.5 inches thick. Prior to dilating, the cervix must soften, shorten and shift position – all great pre-labour work.
During the first stage of labour — the opening of the cervix — the cervix needs to dilate 10 centimetres before you can push. Early labour is defined as up to four centimetres of dilation. During this time, your contractions can stop and start. However, early labour is less intense than active labour, which lasts from four to seven centimetres. The final part of the first stage, transition, lasts until you are 10 centimetres dilated.
Pre-labour contractions feel quite similar to the real thing, although they tend to be less strong. This description isn't very helpful to someone who hasn't experienced labour pains before though!
As a guide, pre-labour contractions:
- Vary in duration; one contraction may last 45 seconds and the next could continue for 2 minutes.
- Occur at irregular intervals – the contractions will lessen or stop if you change position or take a walk.
- Are usually felt in the abdomen, whereas active labour pains are most commonly felt in your lower back
If you think you're experiencing pre-labour, the best thing to do is get some rest. Try going for a walk, having a bath, eating something light or drinking a hot drink. See if you can get some sleep, because you'll need plenty of energy later on.
Some women struggle to sleep through the contractions due to the discomfort, so if you find yourself in this position, try the warm bath or perhaps book yourself in for a pre-natal massage to help relax your body.
Remember that pre-labour can be a sign that labour is imminent, and you need to be well rested for the big event, so do try to sleep if you can. If your pre-labour contractions are becoming stronger, longer, more frequent and at regular intervals, it's time to call your midwife or doctor.
An older study on ‘false' labour found an increased risk of interventions (especially inductions or labour augmentations) in women reporting false labour. So rather than throwing in the towel and getting frustrated with your labour, hang in there and trust that when the time is right, you will be in active labour in no time. A labour without unnecessary interventions is safer and involves much less recovery time.
Don't worry about bothering your care provider if you turn up to the labour ward and it turns out to be pre-labour — they're quite used to it! Your care provider is there to support you through the pregnancy and birth, and they would much rather you contact them if you have any worries. It also lets them know the baby's arrival is not far away.
Recommended Reading For Early Labour
Be sure to read BellyBelly's other articles about early labour and coping: