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False labor vs. true labor

AP Photo/Philip Rinaldi Publicity, Paul Kolnik
If your contractinos elicit this response,  you're not experiencing the "joys" of true labor...not even close. 

As the days draw closer and closer to your wife’s due date, and potentially beyond the due date, the joys of pregnancy fade fast (just ask any pregnant woman).  Long gone are the hours spent gazing at her expanding stomach with amusement and glee, those hours now are replaced with time spent trying to convince mom-to-be that her constant feeling of awkwardness will soon end (good luck with that).  During the last few weeks of pregnancy, especially if it is your first, mom and dad-to-be will be looking for those first signs of the end of her agony…I mean the first signs of the start of your beautiful journey toward parenthood.  As with most things surrounding pregnancy and parenthood however, the signs can easily be confused.

In the last weeks of pregnancy mom-to-be will undoubtedly experience Braxton-Hicks contractions, or false labor.  For an excited mom and dad-to-be these contractions will certainly lead you to believe that you will meet your little one very soon, but they are not the real deal.  You may ask women who have delivered about their labor experience (do so with extreme caution however) and get the response, “Oh, you’ll just know when you are experiencing real contractions.” but that statement alone usually doesn’t help.  To know if you are truly experiencing “true labor” contractions there are a few questions that must be asked, and the answer to each will let you know if you have to get ready for the hospital, or another agonizing night of waiting.

Do they go away with movement?
Are they enjoyable?
Do you hope they continue?

The answers to these questions will certainly let you know what the rest of your night will entail.  The following answers were provided by a woman after experiencing both false labor and true labor.  (Note:  No woman was interviewed for this piece as the author values his life too much to interview a woman in labor.)

Do they go away with movement?   
False Labor:  Yes, unfortunately.  I just walked to the fridge to make myself a huge bowl of chocolate ice cream and they stopped. 
True Labor:  Absolutely not!  What’s worse is that my lazy, good for nothing husband is just sitting there eating that damn bowl of ice cream while I’m going through this horrible pain, which is like a menstrual cramp, only if I was having a menstrual cramp while being stabbed in the back at the same time.  Great, here comes another one…

Are they enjoyable? 
False Labor:  Completely, my husband and I love it when my stomach gets hard, it’s so exciting to hope that our little one will be coming soon, I hope tonight is the night, I am so ready. 
True Labor:  Seriously?  Does it look like I’m enjoying this?  I’m having a hard time breathing, I can’t concentrate and they seem to be getting closer together and more painful, I would definitely not say that this is enjoyable…how could you ask such a stupid question?  I’m not ready for this.

Do you hope they continue? 
False Labor:  This is all of the entertainment that I need right now, I hope they continue all night.  It is so fun to watch my belly ball up and visualize meeting my little baby.  Did I mention how exciting this is? 
True Labor:  What can I do to make these stop?  They have been going on, with increased pain and frequency, for the last two hours.  How long will this last?  There is no way that I can spend 12 or more hours doing this.  Is it too early for an epidural?

The truth of the matter is that when it comes to true labor, you really will just know that you are in labor, but understanding the difference between false labor and true labor will prevent you from running to pack the car every time false labor may begin.  Knowing the signs of true labor will also help dad-to-be know when to put on his coaching hat and start walking the thin line that he will be walking in the delivery room and the importance of this cannot be understated.  As you have probably already realized, you've already reached the point of no return, but as excruciating and exhausting as labor and delivery will be, the reward is most definitely worth the experience, says the dad-to-be.

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Brandon apologizes for the delay in articles, but during his hiatus he and his wife, Lisa, welcomed their daughter Isabelle Lynn Overman on April 13.


  • Minneapolis Early Childhood Parenting Examiner 5 years ago

    Congratulations on your new little girl!
    We are expecting another little one, and I am not looking forward to false labor. Even after 7 children, I know that I will make that trip to the hospital to be sent home, lol.
    When you are in real labor you WILL know, but you won't necessarily know it is false labor when it is false.