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How to Tell When Labor Begins

The big question most pregnant women have (especially first time moms) is, when does labor begin? Knowing the signs of actual vs. false labor are important for knowing if it's a false alarm or if you need to call your doctor and head to the hospital. 

As labor begins, the cervix opens (dilates). The uterus, which contains muscle, contracts at regular intervals. When it contracts, the abdomen becomes hard. Between the contractions, the uterus relaxes and becomes soft. Up to the start of labor and during early labor, the baby will continue to move. Certain changes also may signal that labor is beginning. You may or may not notice some of them before labor begins- the chart below details them. 

False labor contractions, or Braxton-Hicks contractions, are less regular and not as strong as true labor, but they can also be painful. Sometimes the only way to tell the difference is by having a vaginal exam to look for changes in your cervix that signal the onset of labor.

One good way to tell the difference is to time the contractions. Note how long it is from the start of one contraction to the start of the next one. Keep a record for an hour. It may be hard to time labor pains accurately if the contractions are slight. Check the chart below for differences between real and false labor.

If you have questions about your pregnancy, contact Dr. Strebel or Dr. Grolle at (702) 438-BABY (2229). Thanks to ACOG for the charts and information!