What is false labor?

It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on new pregnancy symptoms, but that doesn’t mean that those symptoms are always going to be sending a message. As your due date approaches, Braxton Hicks contractions, which are false labor contractions that happen before real labor does, can start to come more frequently, and to feel more and more like real labor.

Why does false labor happen?

Braxton Hicks contractions can start as early as the second trimester, though they don’t generally start until the third. It’s not certain why these contractions happen, but one theory says that they get the uterine muscle toned and strengthened and ready to give birth, and help facilitate blood flow to the placenta. False labor that happens near the due date can also help along the dilation and effacement of the cervix.

False labor can be triggered when you or the baby are being particularly active, like when your little one is kicking up a storm or when you’ve been working out, when your bladder is full, or because of dehydration.

How can I tell the difference between false and real labor?

  • Timing: False labor contractions are often irregular, and don’t get closer together over time. On the other hand, true labor contractions will come regularly, and will start to come more and more often as labor goes on.
  • Strength: True labor contractions get stronger and stronger as time goes on and they become more frequent, but like with timing, false labor contractions vary in strength instead of getting stronger over time.
  • Movement: If you’re having false labor contractions, they may change and either stop entirely or slow down if you start to move around. True labor, on the other hand, there’s nothing you can do to change.
  • Pain: False labor pain is generally felt in the front, and isn’t too different from menstrual cramps. True labor pains, though, start as a pressure in the back and then move to the front.
  • Discharge: False labor isn’t generally associated with either a persistent leak or gush of fluid or with vaginal spotting or bleeding.

Even with these differences, it can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between true and false labor, especially if you’re at risk for preterm birth. If you’re not sure what you’re feeling, there’s no harm in checking in with your healthcare provider just to be safe, even if it turns out to be a false alarm

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team


  • “True vs False labor.” ClevelandClinic. The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, 2016. Web.
  • “True Labor or False Labor.” UPMC. University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, 2016. Web.
  • “How to Tell When Labor Begins.” ACOG. FAQ004 from American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, May 2011. Web.
  • “True vs False Labor.” Center-obgyn. Center for Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2011. Web.
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