Comparison between False and True Signs of Labor

Comparison between False and True Signs of Labor

Pregnant women who are approaching near their expected date of delivery experience signs of labor. However, these women are not sure if what they are experiencing is either real or false labor. For every woman, every pregnancy is different. But in every pregnancy the same definitive signs of labor will be experienced by women. To figure out if the body is just practicing and preparing for the delivery or actual labor is occurring, pregnant women should be able to classify false from true labor.

Labor is a physiologic process during which the products of conception are expelled outside of the uterus. Regular contractions cause progressive dilatation of the cervix and sufficient muscular force to allow the baby to be pushed to the outside. Labor is a time of change, both an ending and a beginning for a woman, a fetus and a family.

A false labor also termed as prodromal labor is common because the exact time of the labor’s onset is rarely known and usually is gradual. This type of labor often causes women to rush to the birth center, thinking that labor has started. Several characteristics distinguish true labor from labor: contractions, discomfort and cervical change. The BEST distinction is that contractions of true labor cause a progressive change in the cervix, thus, in false labor there is no dilatation of cervix.

Signs of true labor involve uterine and cervical changes. The more a woman knows about the true labor signs, the better. Because it is only in this way that she can better recognize them once she is experiencing contractions. Knowing about the difference between true and false labor is helpful to prevent preterm birth and for the woman to feel secure knowing what is happening during the labor.

Difference between true and false labor


True Labor

False Labor



  • Begin irregularly but become regular and predictable.
  • Usually have a consistent pattern of increasing frequency, duration and intensity.
  • Tends to increase with walking.
  • Begins in the lower back and gradually sweeps around to lower abdomen.
  • Begin and remain irregular.


  • Do not increase in duration, frequency and intensity.


  • Often disappear with ambulation and sleep.
  • Felt first abdominally and remain confined to the abdomen and groin.





  • May persist as back pain in some women.


  • Often resembles menstrual cramps during early labor.

  • Discomfort confined at the abdomen and groin only.



  • Includes progressive effacement and dilation (most important characteristic).

  • No cervical effacement and dilation noted.



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Daisy Jane Antipuesto RN MN

Currently a Nursing Local Board Examination Reviewer. Subjects handled are Pediatric, Obstetric and Psychiatric Nursing. Previous work experiences include: Clinical instructor/lecturer, clinical coordinator (Level II), caregiver instructor/lecturer, NC2 examination reviewer and staff/clinic nurse. Areas of specialization: Emergency room, Orthopedic Ward and Delivery Room. Also an IELTS passer.

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