Skip Navigation Links.
Collapse Patient Education MaterialsPatient Education Materials
Expand AIDS/HIVAIDS/HIV
Expand Back SurgeryBack Surgery
Expand Behavioral HealthBehavioral Health
Expand Breathing DisordersBreathing Disorders
Expand Cancer: MiscellaneousCancer: Miscellaneous
Expand Cancer: Radiation TherapyCancer: Radiation Therapy
Expand Cancer: Chemotherapy DrugsCancer: Chemotherapy Drugs
Expand CardiologyCardiology
Expand Cardiology DrugsCardiology Drugs
Expand Catheters, Drains, and PortsCatheters, Drains, and Ports
Expand ContraceptionContraception
Expand DiabetesDiabetes
Expand Eye CareEye Care
Expand FluFlu
Expand GastrointestinalGastrointestinal
Expand Infection ControlInfection Control
Expand Infectious DiseasesInfectious Diseases
Expand LiverLiver
Expand Men's HealthMen's Health
Expand MiscellaneousMiscellaneous
Expand Neurology/NeurosurgeryNeurology/Neurosurgery
Expand Nutrition and DietNutrition and Diet
Expand Older Adults & CaregiversOlder Adults & Caregivers
Expand OrthopaedicsOrthopaedics
Expand Ostomy CareOstomy Care
Expand OtolaryngologyOtolaryngology
Expand Pain ControlPain Control
Collapse Pregnancy and ChildbirthPregnancy and Childbirth
Expand RehabilitationRehabilitation
Expand Safety TipsSafety Tips
Expand Sexually Transmitted DiseasesSexually Transmitted Diseases
Expand SkinSkin
Expand SmokingSmoking
Expand StrokeStroke
Expand SurgerySurgery
Expand Test & ProceduresTest & Procedures
Expand Women's HealthWomen's Health

True Labor or False Labor

“How will I know when it is real labor?” This is a question you may have as you near the end of your pregnancy.

Many women have periods of “false” labor late in their pregnancy. During false labor, you have contractions that seem to come and go. False labor pains are called “Braxton Hicks” contractions. These contractions help soften and thin your cervix. They tend to happen more often as you get closer to your due date (2 to 4 weeks before birth).

Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between false labor and true labor. Don’t be upset or embarrassed if you think labor is beginning when it is actually a false alarm.

Differences between false labor and true labor

There are several ways to tell the difference between true and false labor.

Timing of contractions

  • False labor: Contractions are often irregular. They don’t get closer together over time.
  • True labor: Contractions come regularly and get closer together. Each contraction lasts about 30 to 60 seconds.

Strength of contractions

  • False labor: Contractions are often weak and do not get stronger.
  • True labor: Contractions get stronger as time goes on.

Change with movement

  • False labor: Contractions may stop or slow down when you walk, lie down, or change positions.
  • True labor: Contractions continue no matter what you do.

Pain with contractions

  • False labor: Discomfort is usually felt in the front, like menstrual cramps.
  • True labor: Discomfort or pressure starts in the back and moves to the front.

If your water breaks

Sometimes labor begins when the bag of waters, or membranes, breaks. This may happen with your early contractions. Or your water may not break until later into your labor.

If your water breaks, you may notice a near constant trickle of fluid from the vagina or a sudden gush of fluid.

If you think your bag of waters is leaking or broken, call your doctor right away.

Other physical changes

You also may have physical changes that occur as your body gets ready for labor. It is normal to have a slight increase of thin, white discharge at the end of pregnancy. Activities like coughing, sneezing, or laughing may cause leaking of urine.

You also may notice a change in appetite, nausea, diarrhea, or constipation. The loss of your mucus plug often precedes labor by a few days. Mucus may be present 2 to 14 days before true labor begins.

Everyone experiences labor in a different way. Call your doctor if you think you are in labor.

©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com