Your Questions Answered: Real Labor vs. False Labor


I'm nearing the end of my third trimester (yay!) and I keep asking other moms how to know when I'm really in labor. They all tell me "Oh, you'll know!" That's great, but it's not very helpful! What are some of the sure signs of labor?


The best way to understand actual labor is to first know about "false" labor. In false labor, contractions are usually irregular, short and do not become closer together or stronger as time goes on. The intensity of contractions does not increase and they last between 15-45 seconds.In false labor, changing activity or positions does not make contractions stronger and might even make them stop. The contractions may only tighten the top part of the uterus and women usually don't experience any back pressure, but do feel groin pressure. The contractions also may soften the cervix, but cause no significant changes in dilation (opening) and effacement (thinning). There also are no significant changes in fetal position.In actual labor, contractions may be irregular at first but gradually become regular, longer and closer together. The intensity progressively increases and the duration becomes longer -- up to 60 seconds.Changing activity or position does not make the contractions stop; it may help make them stronger. The contractions are usually felt in lower back and then radiate to the front. The cervix starts to soften while it starts to thin (efface) and opens (dilates). The baby begins to descend into the pelvis.Read up on the pros and cons of different labor positions to help you know when you are "really" in labor.


Weigh In: What were your tell-tale signs that you were in labor?

 Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator Rachel Bohn has been a doula for 9 years and has been teaching Lamaze classes for 3 years. She currently teaches private Lamaze classes in the comfort of clients' homes. You can learn more about her services by e-mailing her at


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