Giving birth

How do I know if I’m having real contractions or false labour?

So you're having some contractions–or maybe they're just Braxton Hicks?! Either way, you are panicking. Here's how to know if you are in false labour and you just relax and take a bath or if you should get ready to welcome your new baby!

How do I know if I’m having real contractions or false labour?

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Your maternity bags are packed (here's everything you need, including black underwear), your baby's room is prepped and you feel as ready as you'll ever be to have a baby. But while you're busy prepping your mind for parenthood, your body is practicing for labour and delivery.

In the weeks and days before labour, you may start to experience Braxton Hicks contractions—a tightening of your uterus that can start as early as 24 weeks—and wonder if you’re in labour. These contractions can become more frequent and intense as your delivery date gets closer and feel similar to real contractions. They can be quite strong and regular and last up to five hours, says Laurie-Ann Hintzen, a registered midwife for Diversity Midwives in Toronto. So you’re probably wondering, how do you know if it’s false labour or the real deal?

Quite simply, true labour is progressive, meaning that once it starts, it doesn’t go away or decrease in intensity. If you start to feel contractions, wait. “You can’t judge if it’s labour or not as soon as you have a contraction,” says Hintzen. Have a bath or put warm compresses around your belly to deal with the pain and make sure to rest. Whether or not this is the real deal, now is the time to conserve your energy.

If the contractions go away, you’ll know it’s just a practice run. But if they become more regular and intense, you may very well be going into labour. “If you can’t breathe through a contraction, chances are you’re in labour,” says Hintzen.

Regardless of what’s going on with your contractions, call your midwife or doctor if you have a heavy bloody discharge, if your water breaks (amniotic fluid doesn’t have an odour, while urine may smell like ammonia), if you feel strong pressure in your bowels or if you feel the baby coming down. If you experience any of these signs, you’re in labour!

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