In general, the simplest way to explain "real" contractions is that they will grow longer, stronger and closer together. That said, it is very easy to be fooled that they are getting stronger and closer together when your mind is so anxious for the moment to come.
We have an easy great online tool to help time your contractions right here at Pregnancy & Baby, or you can get a mobile app such as Contraction Master. Simply press start at the onset of a contraction and end when it has dissipated. On the app, it will create a log telling you how long the contraction lasted and how far apart they were (from start to start).
The longer you feel rhythmic contractions coming you should begin to notice that they are lasting longer.
As you are progressing you should notice that the contractions take more energy to concentrate through. They will increase to a point that you will struggle to speak while in the middle of one. With false labor contractions, you may be in discomfort, but it should not hinder your ability to go about your daily life.
As your uterus is working, the amount of down time between contractions is going to shorten. You will go from maybe one or two an hour, to six or more. When contractions are coming consistently within 10 minutes of each other, it is not a bad idea to place a call with your doctor or midwife.
False labor contractions may seem to be real when you are out walking laps trying to encourage baby to come. When you get home, drink a glass of water and lay down to relax. If things slow down before tapering off, you know they aren't real. The reverse is also true. If you are relaxing and think you have a good rhythm going, try to get up and walk and see what happens. Movement should make false labor slow down and stop. If it is the real thing though, walking will cause your labor to pick up and progress.
You won't just feel a contraction over your abdomen like you commonly do with Braxton Hicks. The pain will wrap around your abdomen and lower back. False contractions feel like an overall tightening, coming from all directions and pulling in. A real contraction will usually create a sensation of pressure moving downwards as your body works to assist baby down the birth canal.
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