What is false labor?
The expert answers
False labor is a term I would like to do away with. It implies that there is nothing useful or valid going on here. I don't think this is the case. I like to tell my moms that everything their body does form the moment of conception is designed to bring forth a healthy full term baby and it is all productive. Not only is this what I believe to be the truth, but it also puts one in a positive mind frame about the experiences of pregnancy.
Midwives call false labor "pre-labor" because it is a more accurate term. Your uterus is contracting just like it will in
active labor, and it may feel the same. Usually the contractions
of pre-labor aren't as firm, usually don't last as long and
eventually fade out with no baby to show for losing a night's
sleep. This is not to say what has been happening is not
productive. I am convinced it is, although we cannot always measure the
progress by conventional terms of measurement such as dilation, effacement
There are some ways to tell pre-labor from the labor that's going to last long enough to get you a baby:
Contractions of pre-labor tend to be shorter, 30 seconds or less, and tend to stay irregular or the same distance apart. True labor contractions, on the other hand, will get progressively longer, stronger and closer together. This is the value of timing your contractions in early labor. Timing the length of contractions and the interval between them gives us information about what the body is intending to do. A labor pattern that progresses in length and intensity is generally more reassuring of impending birth.
If contractions are keeping you awake at night, take a warm bath, drink something soothing, eat lightly, then try to go back to sleep. You won't stop real labor by going back to sleep, and probably the biggest danger of pre-labor is loosing sleep and becoming exhausted, dehydrated or hungry before the active part of labor ever starts.
Many midwives and mothers who believe that the natural process of
labor should be left to it's own rhythm and not interfered with
unless there is a good reason, have found that several periods of
pre-labor are quite common and well within the realm of normal. I like to think the body is revving up, getting all the aspects
of labor in tune and in line. When things are just right, the
process will produce a baby. When you experience pre-labor, think
if it as a positive thing, be assured that your body is doing what
it needs to do for the job it has ahead of it. Keep rested and
well fed so you will be ready when your baby is.