The difference between true and spurious (false) labor

What is the difference between true and spurious (false) labour?

One of the most common questions my staff and I get asked is “how do I know if I am in true labour”?

Nearly all women experience Braxton Hicks contractions during their pregnancy. These contractions are mother natures way of preparing your body to labour. Your body does give some signals in advance that labour is not far off. These signals are signs of progress but in most instances,  it may be hours or days before you go into established labour.

It is important to note that not every woman experiences spurious labour. It is often difficult to distinguish between what is true labour and what is not.

If you are in spurious labour:

  • Contractions are irregular and do not get closer together
  • Contractions generally decrease in intensity and frequency if you lie down, relax or get into a warm shower or bath.
  • The pain is felt more in the lower abdomen rather than the back
  • Contractions subside altogether

In true labour:

  • Contractions get closer together
  • Contractions get stronger and last for longer
  • Contraction intensify with activity and are not relieved by simple measures such as resting or changing position.
  • Pain is felt initially in the lower back, spreads to the abdomen and through the hips and thighs.
  • You may have a blood streaked show
  • Your membranes may rupture

Some women may however experience spurious labour that is so intense it is difficult to distinguish from true labour. Other woman may be in true labour but their contractions do not have any recognisable pattern.

If in doubt and you think you might be in labour, even if it is not close to your due date it is important to contact the midwives in my rooms during office hours. They all have vast labour ward experience and can advise you what to do. After hours, contact the Epworth Freemasons labour ward midwives on 9418 8302.

Once you contact the staff they will ask you to describe the frequency and length of your contractions. They will also ask whether you have had a bloody show or if you have fluid leaking. If this is the case, it is important to put on a pad. They will also ask you how active your baby has been over the past 24 hours.

When in doubt – contact the staff. If there is any uncertainty, they may ask you to come into hospital and have fetal monitoring. They might recommend you wait at home and see if things progress over the next hour or so. Even is your labour ends up being spurious, it is better to make contact with the staff so that you can be reassured that help is at hand.

Dr Len Kliman is one of Melbourne’s most experienced Obstetrician’s and Gynaecologists. He has over thirty years of experience in all aspects of gynaecology, low risk and high risk pregnancy. Dr Kliman was awarded an Order of Australia in 2017 for his services to obstetrics and gynaecology.