Early labor symptoms, Braxton Hicks contractions, false labor and how to recognize them



Understanding early labor symptoms helps every expecting mom approaching delivery due date to clear her doubts, allay her fears and know when true labor is imminent. False labor symptoms such as Braxton Hicks contractions are common; it’s possible that some physical changes in build-up to labor and delivery may be mistaken as indicative signs for the onset of labor.

Labor symptoms may not appear all at once and the worry of many pregnant moms is about how to recognize these labor symptoms?  Giving some clear-cut answers to such common questions among expectant moms sounds a good idea to us.

Therefore, we’ll be examining what exactly are the early labor symptoms, Braxton hicks contractions, what constitute false labor and how to recognize between true labor and a false one. 

What are early labor symptoms?

As a woman’s body prepares for the Big-D (child delivery), there are quite noticeable physical changes that take place in weeks, days or hours before true labor begins. Knowing these possible symptoms that precede labor is the very first step to alleviate your concerns even though you may notice any or all of them, and you may not. The early symptoms of labor are:

Dropping and Lightening

Have you ever heard of the term, baby dropping? Particularly for moms carrying first pregnancy, the baby moves down into the pelvis about two to three weeks prior to delivery; taking a suitable position for easy exit from the uterus into the birth canal.

Although, moms who have given birth before may not experience this symptom until active labor begins. Generally, dropping helps you get more comfortable, enables you breathe more easily and as well, may cause increased pressure and radiating pain on your vagina area.


Often in a few days before labor starts, your body releases prostaglandins which are hormonal substances that trigger uterine contractions and thus contribute to loose bowel movements before the onset of labor.

The Bloody Show

The physical changes of effacement and dilation that take place in your cervix generate a kind of mucous discharge through your vagina. This mucus comes out mixed with blood which may most probably result from ruptured capillaries in the cervix, hence the term bloody show.

Mucous Plug Discharge

There is an accumulation of mucous in the form of plug at the neck of womb and it protects your developing child from infection.

As your cervix begins to thin-out and dilate in build-up to labor and delivery, this mucous seal comes off and is discharged through the vagina. If it happens before you go into labor, you may notice it as just a small amount of sticky, pinkish mucus. However, it may happen anytime from two weeks before the onset of real labor.

Increased Braxton-hicks Contractions

This is one of the earliest labor symptoms that can start anywhere after pregnancy week twenty. It’s popularly called practice-for-labor contractions like a tightening feeling that starts at the top of your uterus and then glides downward. It can last anywhere from 15 seconds to a couple of minutes. These contractions may become more intense, frequent, painful and stronger to the point that you may feel uncomfortable but it doesn’t last.

Other early labor symptoms include nesting instinct, effacement and dilation, changes in vagina discharge, increased pelvis pressure, groin and low back pain, cramps and amniotic water breaking. You can read more on these on real signs of labor page.

Contractions can be deceiving: Braxton Hicks Contractions

When you experience regular contractions, that are much more regular and so much painful that you might not be able to carry out activities you usually do, then you’re most certainly in true labor.

However, one of the false early labor symptoms is Braxton-hicks contractions; a feeling of painless, uncomfortable and irregular uterine contractions or abdominal cramps that can occur any time after the first trimester or frequently towards the end of pregnancy, without cervical dilation.

Braxton-hicks contractions are not indicative of labor. Some women get confused by this false alarm of labor.

How to recognize if contractions are true or false?

The frequency and the break between contractions are yardsticks for recognizing the true onset of labor. One of the easiest and popular ways of ascertaining if your contractions are true is by timing the intervals or spaces between contractions.

Note the time at the start of a contraction session until that of the second. Braxton Hicks contractions have varying intervals, lasting anywhere from 15 seconds to 2 minutes, and are not as lengthy as true contractions. These contractions usually come to a halt after some time when you sit down, walk around or change your position.

On the other hand, if you enter true active labor, you might feel pressure and hardening of your uterus during contractions. These contractions begin slowly and gradually grow stronger and come more often until they reach their maximum intensity, lasting as long as 60 seconds and then fade away.

The interval between two consecutive contractions differs considerably throughout. It can be as lengthy as 20 minutes and as brief as 5 minutes. These regular contractions are known as one of the reliable early labor symptoms for a full-term pregnancy.

The Pain Factor

Where and how much pain you experience also helps recognize between false alarm and true labor symptoms. During false labor, the pain and contractions are usually concentrated at the groin and lower part of the abdomen but are not intense.

In a true labor, the contractions are often preceded by lower back pain and the duration and repetition of contractions increase along with pain.

As labor progresses, the pain gets intense and heavy like the pain that accompanies monthly menstruation in some women. This pain, as a result of contractions, is caused by lack of blood flow to the muscles of the uterus as well as the fetus because of compressed vessels of the uterine wall. 

On a final note, don’t be confused by Braxton Hick contractions or other labor symptoms. If you have whatever doubts regarding any of the early labor symptoms you notice, consult your doctor.

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