This post is part of an editorial series, “The Stork Stories,” brought to you by the Fort Worth Moms Blog and Texas Health. We hope these pieces provide you with helpful information, encouragement, and answers as you prepare for baby’s arrival.
Disclaimer :: Dr. Catherine Bevan, a local OB/Gyn, provides insight and shares her own personal “false labor” story as she partner with the Fort Worth Moms Blog to tackle this often trick topic.
If you ask 10 people to define what it means to be in labor, you will probably get several different answers. Strictly defined, labor is uterine contractions that lead to dilation and effacement of the cervix. Consequently, deciding if someone is in labor can be difficult for both the soon-to-be mom as well as the healthcare provider. Manual evaluation of cervical change over time (hours) is necessary to confirm if true active labor is present. Many women experience what is called “false labor,” meaning they have painful uterine contractions that do not lead to changes in the cervix. False labor may occur at any point in pregnancy, often stops spontaneously, or may even proceed rapidly into active labor. The distinction between false and true labor can be confusing and subtle, even for the most experienced mom or healthcare professional.
When I was pregnant with my first child as an OB/Gyn resident, at around 38 weeks I started feeling frequent, uncomfortable contractions that occurred about every five minutes. After a few hours of this, I thought for sure that I was in active labor and that my son was about to be born! My husband and I excitedly collected our hospital bag and rushed to the hospital. About eight hours later, we were back home, tired, and slightly disappointed that we weren’t new parents. I gained a new appreciation for how false labor can be so deceptive. It is definitely more important to err on the side of caution when deciding to go into the hospital or not, but that being said, there are some characteristics of false and true labor that can help distinguish the two. The contractions of true labor occur at regular intervals that gradually shorten over time, with increasing intensity, causing pain in the back and abdomen. False labor tends to be more irregular, with unchanged intensity, with discomfort focused in the lower abdomen. The take-home point is that this distinction is difficult, and oftentimes, only evaluation of the contractions and any cervical change over a period of several hours can differentiate between true and false labor.
This discussion begs the question, “When should I go to the hospital?” This is a very common question that many pregnant women have. In most cases, presentation to the hospital is warranted in the following cases:
- Uterine contractions that occur every five minutes for a period of two hours.
- Leaking of fluid from the vagina (water breaking) – this may occur as a gush of fluid or a small constant leakage of amniotic fluid.
- Baby not moving – most providers recommend starting kick counts once or twice a day around 28 weeks gestation. This means taking some quiet time to pay attention to your baby’s movements. You should feel your baby move 10 times an hour. Sometimes having a snack or some juice will help perk up your baby’s activity. This time becomes especially important toward the end of pregnancy. Your baby’s movements may not be as strong at this point (no room for rolling for most kiddos!), but the frequency should still be there. Also, it’s good to note that babies will have more defined sleep/wake cycles at term, so a period of decreased activity may be because your baby is sleeping. These sleep cycles usually only last 15 minutes or so.
- Vaginal bleeding – this may indicate an issue with the placenta. Some vaginal spotting after a cervical exam or with passage of the mucus plug can be normal.
- Severe headache – especially concerning if there is a history of high blood pressure.
- Other concerns – it is best to consult your healthcare professional if you have any concerns about whether or not you should head to the hospital.
Deciding when to go into the hospital can be difficult at times. It is important to trust your body and when in doubt, seek guidance from your healthcare provider. As with most aspects of medicine, communication is paramount in obtaining the best outcomes for you and your baby!
Dr. Catherine Bevan is a board certified obstretician and gynecologist, who practices in Tarrant County, with offices in Fort Worth and Willow Park. She is a Fort Worth native and received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Washington University in St. Louis where she graduated cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa. She then returned to Texas to complete her medical degree at UT Southwestern as well as her residency training at Parkland Memorial Hospital. She also spent an additional year as an assistant professor at UT Southwestern, specializing in gynecologic surgery and emergency women’s care. Providing excellent service to her patients is a passion for her as she guides them to the best possible healthcare outcomes.
You can read more from Dr. Bevan on the Fort Worth Moms Blog archives.
You can contact Dr. Bevan at:
- 1250 8th Avenue, Ste 320 // Fort Worth, TX 76104 // (P) 817-924-2111 // (F) 817-564-3980
- 134 El Chico Trail, Suite 103 // Willow Park, TX 76087 // (P) 817-441-1644 // (F) 817-441-1626
Stork Stories photo credit: www.freepik.com.