The anticipation is real, but Baby will come when she is good and ready and sometimes this can turn into a long, drawn-out waiting game. If you’ve never experienced labor before, how do you know if your contractions are real or not?
“False labor” is very much a thing that brings couples to the hospital too soon — even the most experienced mamas can be confused. So how do you differentiate between false and real labor?
“Typically when moms are in ‘real labor’ they will have really regular and painful contractions that get more frequent and painful over time,” says Neha Jeirath, M.D., OB/Gyn at Mercy Health. “Sometimes ‘false labor’ can feel like the real thing, but after resting and monitoring, the contractions will go away or get less intense which doesn’t happen if it’s the real deal,” she adds.
Labor really means that you are experiencing regular and painful contractions, causing your cervix to dilate. Having back pain? This is common in pregnancy and it’s possible that it could be related to labor. Other times, these lower back pains are just the “normal” aches that come along with pregnancy in addition to other symptoms, which can be confusing. If you are having lower back pains and are unsure what they are related to, call your doctor right away.
“Other symptoms that go along with true labor can be your water breaking or some light vaginal spotting that happens as your cervix starts to dilate (this is called bloody show),” Jeirath says. “Some moms experience Braxton Hicks contractions (unpredictable contractions) for weeks before going into true labor which can be really confusing and frustrating!”
Rule of thumb: when in doubt, call your OB/Gyn or midwife. Your doctor would much rather hear from you with your concerns rather than miss something big, Jeirath says.
Signs Labor is Near
There are some ways you can know if labor is in your near future.
Common signs include diarrhea, a slower weight gain or weight loss; increased fatigue; a boost of energy or the “nesting instinct;” or vaginal discharge dispelled as either a blob (called the “mucus plug”) or a runny smear. Yes, it is hard to predict exactly when labor will happen, but keeping an eye out for increasing contractions can be one sign, says Jeirath, plus staying in-tune with those final week-by-week cervical checkups.
If you’re still worried, the best thing you can do to ease your mind is to ask questions during your prenatal visits, and talk to friends and family who have been pregnant before and can offer reassuring, helpful advice.
“A lot of times though things don’t always go quite as planned, so being flexible is key because in the end the goal is to have a happy and healthy mom and baby!” says Jeirath.