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False Alarm Or Baby Time? Decoding The Differences

Embarking on the journey from the moment of confirming your pregnancy to the eventual arrival of labour is an extraordinary and cherished experience for every woman. These months are filled with anticipation, emotions, and an array of unique sensations. As pregnancy progresses, especially during the final weeks, many women find themselves on high alert, sensing that the arrival of their baby is imminent. Every twinge, ache, or contraction can trigger a flurry of excitement and sometimes apprehension. It's during these moments that the distinction between false labour and true labour becomes a pivotal concern.

Within this blog, we delve into this crucial differentiation, aiming to equip you with the knowledge needed to confidently identify whether you're experiencing false labour or true labour. This knowledge is instrumental in alleviating unnecessary worry and ensuring you're prepared for the moment when your baby is genuinely ready to make their entrance into the world. By exploring the nuances between these two types of contractions, we hope to empower expectant mothers with the understanding they need to navigate the final stages of pregnancy with greater assurance and insight.

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What is Braxton hicks?

Braxton Hicks contractions are like a little preview of what your body does during real labour. It's as if your body is practising for the big day. These contractions make your belly feel tight and firm, kind of like your muscles are flexing temporarily. Sometimes, one side of your abdomen might tighten more than the other.

Unlike the regular and predictable contractions that happen during actual labour, Braxton Hicks contractions don't follow a specific pattern. They can come and go whenever they want, which can be confusing. The good news is that they're usually not painful. They might make you uncomfortable or slightly crampy, but they're not super intense.

Think of the sensation as similar to how your muscles feel after you've done some exercise, but not as strong. Some women say these contractions feel like a watered-down version of the real thing, the contractions you'll experience when you're actually in labour.

These practice contractions are helpful because they prepare your body for the main event – giving birth. They're like small steps your body takes to prepare for the big moment. Remember, if you're ever unsure if you're feeling Braxton Hicks or real labour, don't hesitate to talk to your doctor or midwife. They're there to help and make sure everything is okay.

Prodromal labour

Prodromal labour, also known as "false labour" refers to a type of labour contraction that occurs before true labour begins. These contractions are typically less intense and regular compared to actual labour contractions, and they do not lead to significant cervical dilation or progression of labour.

Prodromal labour contractions can often feel similar to real labour contractions, causing discomfort and sometimes confusion for pregnant women. However, unlike true labour contractions, prodromal contractions do not result in the cervix consistently dilating and effacing (thinning) as they do during active labour. As a result, prodromal labour contractions tend to be inconsistent in frequency, duration, and intensity.

The exact cause of prodromal labour is not always clear, but it is believed to be related to the body's preparations for childbirth. It could be due to the uterus practising and toning its muscles, the baby adjusting its position in the pelvis, or other hormonal and physiological changes occurring in the late stages of pregnancy.

Difference between Braxton Hicks contraction and prodromal labour

False Labour vs Real Labour - How to Tell the Difference Between the Two?

Braxton Hicks Painless contractions and prodromal labour are both types of contractions that pregnant women may experience, but they exhibit distinct characteristics. Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular and sporadic, often causing a mild tightening sensation in the abdomen. They lack a consistent pattern in timing, duration, and intensity, and they do not lead to cervical dilation or effacement. On the other hand, prodromal labour contractions are more regular than Braxton Hicks but less so than true labour contractions. They may occur at somewhat predictable intervals and can be more intense, causing discomfort or mild pain in the lower abdomen and back. While they may lead to slight cervical changes like softening of the cervix, such as dilation and effacement.

Distinguishing between true labour and false labour, such as Braxton Hicks contractions or prodromal labour, can indeed be challenging for expectant mothers. However, there are several key indicators that can help determine if you are experiencing true labour:

1. Contractions progression: True labour contractions tend to become more regular and closer together over time, lasting about 30 to 60 seconds each. Unlike false labour, they persist regardless of your movement or rest.

2. Increasing intensity: True labour contractions generally grow stronger as time goes on, causing increasing discomfort and pain.

3. Back to front movement: True labour contractions often start in the back and radiate to the front of the abdomen as they progress.

4. The 5-1-1 rule: This rule suggests that if contractions come every 5 minutes, lasting 1 minute each, for at least 1 hour, it might indicate active labour.

5. Fluids and other signs: The presence of amniotic fluid, often referred to as your water breaking, can indicate labour is imminent. A "bloody show" or the release of the "mucus plug" can be signs of cervical changes associated with impending labour. Intense contractions might lead to nausea and vomiting due to hormonal shifts. Vaginal tears could indicate heightened discomfort and progress.

6. Professional evaluation: The only definitive way to determine true labour is through evaluation by a healthcare professional, as true labour is characterised by contractions causing cervical changes.

It's crucial for expectant mothers to remain attentive to these signs and consult a healthcare provider if they suspect they might be in labour. While false labour can be confusing, these indicators can help guide your understanding of whether you are truly in the early stages of labour.

True Labour vs False Labour


True Labour

False Labour


Regular, closer together over time

Irregular, sporadic

​Contraction Duration

​Lasting about 30-60 seconds each

​Varies in duration


​Gradually intensifies and becomes stronger

​Mild, discomfort, not consistently stronger

Movement Impact

​Persists regardless of movement or rest

​Often subsides with movement or rest

​Cervical Changes

​Causes cervical dilation and effacement

​Usually no significant cervical changes


As you get closer to the end of your pregnancy, you might start thinking a lot about whether you're going into labour or not. It's normal to have moments of uncertainty, especially when you experience occasional contractions or discomfort. That's why it's a good idea to keep talking to your doctor or healthcare provider. Figuring out if you're really in labour or if it's just false alarms, like Braxton Hicks contractions or prodromal labour, can be tricky. But your doctor knows best, and they can help you understand what's going on. They'll give you the right advice and information to handle this stage of pregnancy and the upcoming childbirth confidently.

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About The Author: Dr. Ujwala Patil (MBBS DGO, LCCE )

Dr. Ujwala Patil experienced gynecologist and obstetrician

Dr. Ujwala Patil, founder of Polaris Health Care, specializes in gynecology and obstetrics. With extensive experience and training, she offers expert advice, especially in infertility, cervical cytology, and colonoscopy. Empaneled at Surya and Life point hospitals, she has successfully managed high-risk obstetric cases and conducted over 1000 deliveries, providing compassionate care for women from diverse backgrounds.


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