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Is It Really Labor?

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During the third trimester of pregnancy, a woman’s body reaches its maximum, and the common pregnancy discomforts begin to settle in. The realization that labor is getting close can be a welcome, yet daunting thought.   For expectant mothers, distinguishing the difference between real labor and false labor can be tricky, and sometimes difficult.

In medical terms, labor is defined by the thinning and dilation of the cervix. Thinning of the cervix usually begins during the beginning stages of labor (latent phase). During the latent phase of labor, contractions are often irregular or widely spaced. Dilation occurs when the baby’s head pushes against the cervix with a rhythmic force, which happens when true labor begins.

So how can an expectant mom tell the difference between false contractions and real ones? During the last weeks of the second trimester, some women begin to experience Braxton Hicks contractions. While these contractions don’t work to dilate the cervix, they do begin the onset of the latent phase of labor. Labor often begins gradually, not suddenly, like often believed.

False labor usually consists of contractions that:

1. Stop with activity

2. Are irregular

3. Stay the same, never getting stronger or more frequent

4. Painful/Not Painful

True labor usually consists of contractions that:

1. Contractions that get stronger

2. Contractions that are at regular intervals, 5-8 minutes apart

3. Contractions that are accompanied by lower back pain or a premenstrual type cramp

4. Contractions that remain during activity

If contractions are accompanied by the breaking of the bags of water or bleeding need to be reported to a physician immediately.

If an expectant mother thinks that she is possibly in labor, it is important for the physician to be notified. Some physicians prefer that expectant mothers meet them at the hospital immediately for evaluation. While it can be difficult to determine the difference between false labor and true labor, keeping track of each contraction is important, and will help women identify when true labor begins.

Written by Jaime Warren of

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