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From the moment you get the big news you are pregnant, you spend time preparing yourself mentally and physically for “labor day.” While this big event will come in good time, be aware there may be a few false starts before the actual day arrives.
Also known as Braxton Hicks, the symptoms of this “false labor” can feel a lot like the real thing and send you hurrying to the hospital. By knowing the difference, you can determine when it’s time to grab your labor bag for real and when to wait until your symptoms resolve. And if you’re unsure, it’s always a good idea to call your doctor or midwife.
Physicians typically describe labor as a series of steps. First, you experience mild contractions, typically in your pelvis and lower back. Your membranes may also rupture (also known as your water breaking). Your contractions increase in intensity and duration, lasting longer and feeling stronger as you progress into more active labor. Your cervix starts to dilate and thin out, and your baby moves lower in the pelvis, all in preparation for delivery.
When you experience false labor, the symptoms may be similar, but they often have a few key differences.
When in doubt, always call your health care provider to discuss your symptoms to ensure you should not seek medical attention.
Some women don’t feel much even when they are in active labor (though this is the exception, not the rule!). This is especially true if your contractions are accompanied by bright red vaginal bleeding, any leakage of amniotic fluid, or if you feel your baby moving less than six times an hour, or if you are preterm.
Not always! Sometimes it is a very slow trickle of fluid, so if you aren’t sure, check in with your doctor or midwife.
The movies always make it seem like a tidal wave when a woman’s water breaks. While that can definitely be the case, others may only notice a small amount of fluid leaking or trickling out. The consistency is often like water, and at first, you may think you are just peeing yourself! If you are at all unsure, call your doctor or midwife. Assuming it is nothing only to find that your bag of water has been broken for days can put you and your baby at risk for infection. Better safe than sorry!
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