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Telling Pre-Labour and True Labour Apart


pregnant woman in bed with doctor and partner at bedside




It's easy to confuse pre labour with true labour.  

Here's a list of signs to help you tell the difference.


Pre-labour True Labour
Contractions are at irregular intervals; e.g., every five to 15 minutes. Contractions occur at more regular intervals; e.g., five to 10 minutes apart.
Contraction length varies; e.g., lasting 20 seconds to 90 seconds The length of contractions usually increases; e.g., lasting 30 to 60 seconds
Although they may be painful, the strength of contractions remains the same or lessens. Intensity of contractions gradually increases, becoming progressively more painful.
Contractions are often felt in the lower abdomen. Contractions can be felt in the abdomen, across the lower back, and sometimes in the thighs.
You may find that contractions are most uncomfortable when you are moving and lessen when you are resting. Contractions do not decrease when you're resting, but continue regardless of what you are doing.
The cervix usually remains closed. The cervix thins and shortens (effaces) and opens (dilates).
There is no "show" (pink tinged vaginal mucus). There may be "show" and/or fluid leaking from your amniotic sac.

Preparing for labour and birth is like getting ready for a marathon. If you have practiced comfort positions and breathing and relaxation techniques, you will be able to choose the ones that you find most helpful during the labour and birthing process.

If you're still not sure if you are experiencing pre-labour or true labour, follow these tips:

  • If it's night time, try to sleep. You need to be well rested for childbirth. In true labour you may not be able to sleep but will at least rest. If you fall asleep, it’s most likely pre-labour.
  • Take a shower. The contractions in pre-labour will often become less frequent and shorter. In true labour the contractions will continue no matter what you are doing and taking a shower can be comforting. 
  • Distract yourself. Watch a movie, walk in the garden, play cards. If you are in true labour, the contractions will demand your attention. If it’s pre-labour, you may be able to carry on with your usual routines.

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Last Updated: August 12, 2013