Determining actual labor from false labor also known as Braxton Hicks contractions, can be difficult even for women who have experienced labor before. The best way to tell if you are experiencing real labor is by listening to your body, looking for anything odd as far as symptoms go. Below explains how labor starts and what to look for to determine if you are in actual real labor.

There are three stages of labor. This page explains the first stage of labor which is what you'll experience while you are at home.



The first stage of labor starts when your cervix starts to dilate and become wider so baby can pass through at time of delivery. It is the longest stage lasting weeks for first time prenancies and days in some second or more pregnancies but it is also pretty much painless. Alot of women who start to dilate and hear they are in the first stages of labor start to panic thinking things will happen in a matter of hours or days before baby will be born but the first stage of labor lasts 4 weeks or more, its basically your body getting ready for active labor which is the last stage and when baby is getting ready to arrive. The first stage of labor not only includes dilation but also your mucus plug, which is keeping your water (also known as amniotic sac) from bulging out, is starting to loosen and you may notice green colored mucus either at the bottom of the toilet or on your toilet paper after going to the bathroom and this can also be a 4 week process. You will know you are getting to the end of the first stage of labor when the mucus starts to look like a brown color instead of green and you know you have passed your mucus plug when you get a very large amount that is a dark brown color. Usually when you pass your mucus plug that means you still have a week to two weeks until you deliver. Only 5% of women have their water break on its own so don't be worried about it breaking at all. In most cases when you are close to the second stage of labor the Labor Delivery nurse will manually break your water with what looks like a croshay hook and that is what starts the second stage of labor and stronger contractions.



You'll know when your labor has started to progress, you start active labor and your delivery date is getting closer when you start having contractions that aren't Braxton Hick. Actual real contractions can be tricky to determine between braxton hicks. There are two types of labor a woman can go through. Basic Labor and Back labor.

BASIC LABOR: With basic labor you will only have stomach contractions and the best way to tell if you are having actual real contractions is if your stomach starts to harden, stays hard for longer than 30 seconds,goes away and comes back a hour later or constantly and they keep coming even after two or three hours have passed. It should come back every hour and after a few hours start to get closer together. Contractions should still keep coming for more than two hours when you are in first stage labor. You'll know if you are not in actual labor when you sit down, the contraction goes away and doesn't come back at all anytime you are sitting down.

BACK LABOR: Its similar to basic labor only you start feeling like you are having severe lower back pain and the sensation moves from your back to your stomach and your stomach starts to harden for 30 seconds or longer and then slowly goes away. Usually in the beginning you will just feel very strong back pain and within a hour or so the contractions will start. You'll definitely know its the real thing when you sit down for a long period of time and the contractions still come when you are sitting down. When you are standing up and the contractions come but as soon as you sit down they go away you are having Braxton Hicks contractions.

Once your contractions start to get 6-8 minutes apart from the end of one contraction to the beginning of another that is when you go to the ER and I will have more info on what to expect when you get there on the What To Expect During Labor web page soon:-) With most first time pregnancies after your contractions start your first stage of labor will start progressing along with contractions coming closer together but with most women you won't need to go to the hospital for at least 10-15 hrs. With my first pregnancy I started having contractions at 5am on the 21st of December and my contractions didn't get to 6 minutes apart until 12am on the 22nd. I delivered at 9:20am on the 22nd. With my second I was induced (which I strongly do not recommend).

With second or more pregnancies the end of the first stage of labor is different only because the first stage of labor is very short. In alot of cases in a second or more labor dilation and baby's engagement won't start until the contractions start or sometime during the contraction labor process in the first stage. Don't be surprised though if a month or less before your contractions start your dr tells you that you are dilated and baby is engaged. I was one of the few who was dilated 2cm for a month with a bulging amniotic sac (water) for two weeks and baby had been engaged for a month. The time when your contractions start and when your contractions become 6-8 minutes apart is also short as well compared to the 10-15 hrs with a first pregnancy.