False Labor, Or The Real Thing?

false laborEarly last Wednesday morning, around 1 a.m., I started having real contractions…or so I thought. Upon the first wave of cramping in my lower abdomen, I panicked — I was a few days over 37 weeks at the time, and wanted to keep baby #2 in my belly as long as possible. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel ready,  I’m just not in a hurry. Plus, the longer the little guy “cooks,” the better it is for his over-all health, and gives me a little more time to bond with my toddler.

Minutes after the unmistakable contraction, I  was wide awake staring at the ceiling, trying to stay calm, when my husband turned over and asked if I was okay. I really didn’t want to tell him that I thought I was in early labor, but just then, I was hit with another wave of cramping and tightening, and by the way I am breathing, he knew exactly what was going on. He was so sweet, asking me if I needed anything, details about timing and pain-level, etc. This wasn’t our first rodeo, after all.  We went downstairs for a snack — I had toast and applesauce ( foods recommended to satisfy but not bloat) just in case I was actually having the baby that morning.  I even decided it was best to lay my son’s clothes out for the day, and prep his breakfast and lunch, to make things easier on his caretaker. Like the insanely-prepared person I am, I also started drafting a text messsage to the middle-of-the-night/morning caretaker which included instructions, tips and tricks. Luckily, I had already sent a mass email with an attached 6-page Word document on how to care for my toddler while we are gone for several days. More on THAT later!

My husband decided to go back to bed, since the timing between contractions and variation of pain with each round was starting to become inconsistent; and I agreed that he needed to get plenty of sleep so he could keep me sane and focused.  I hung out in the kitchen for a while, and downloaded a free app to track the labor, since my brain was too tired to function.  For the next hour, the app proved what I was suspecting: the timing between contractions were not consistent or increasing in intensity. Plus, my pain was centralized in my lower abdomen, and did not wrap around my back like when I labored Bubba. I was experiencing false labor.

I Googled “real labor vs. false labor,” since I had read something on this before, and was able to identify what I was going through. I was relieved but annoyed. I knew the next day would be a long and exhausting one, but luckily I had a doctor appointment that morning AND my son would be in school that day (answers from my doc and a NAP! Hooray!). I finally went back to bed, and tried to go back to sleep. I was unable to sleep through the contractions, and continued to log them on the app. Finally, around 4 a.m., they subsided, and I was able to sleep for 3 hours until my son was up for the day.

I dragged myself around that morning, and drank an entire cup of coffee (rather than my usual morning half-cup), and was somehow able to operate a moving vehicle safely to get my son to school and myself to the doctor. I explained to my doctor what I had experienced, and she anxiously checked my cervix to see if I had progressed past 1 cm. and 50% effacement (which was discovered at my previous appointment). I hadn’t progressed. What?!? After all that? She told me that I may have false labor often over the next week or two, but to be sure I pay attention in case it’s the real thing. I felt a little bummed that all of that action (and missed sleep) was for nothing, but at least it put me in the mindset that this labor thing could actually happen sooner than I thought, and to be sure I was truly prepared.

Feeling contractions? Want to know if it’s the real thing, or a dirty trick your body is playing on you? Here’s what I learned from BabyCenter:

How can I tell whether I’m in false labor or true labor?

Sometimes it’s very hard to tell false labor from the early stages of true labor. If you’re 37 weeks or more, here are some things that might help you sort it out:

  • False labor contractions are unpredictable. They come at irregular intervals and vary in length and intensity. Although true labor contractions may be irregular at first, over time they start coming at regular and shorter intervals, become increasingly more intense, and last longer.
  • With false labor, the pain from the contractions is more likely to be centered in your lower abdomen. With true labor, you may feel the pain start in your lower back and wrap around to your abdomen.
  • False labor contractions may subside on their own or when you start or stop an activity or change position. True labor contractions will persist and progress no matter what you do.

What should I do if I feel contractions?

If you’re not yet 37 weeks, don’t waste precious time trying to figure out what’s going on. If you notice any signs of labor, call your doctor or midwife right away in order to rule out preterm labor. After 37 weeks, you can sit out the contractions (whether false or from true early labor) at home and see what develops, unless your practitioner has advised you otherwise.

False labor contractions can be a real drag, interfering with your sleep and making you tired and cranky. (Taking warm baths and drinking plenty of liquids can sometimes help.) You might also feel anxious, wondering when true labor will start.

If you have an older child, you might be constantly wondering whether it’s time to call the babysitter. When in doubt, make the call — there’s no harm done, even if you don’t end up needing to go in, and you may be able to rest more easily knowing that help is at hand.

Time your contractions until you get a sense of what’s going on. And don’t hesitate to call your doctor or midwife to check in if you’re concerned, confused, or just need a little encouragement or reassurance.

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