When you’re in the last stages of your pregnancy, it’s more than possible to get false labor alarms. That’s perfectly normal considering the changes in your body and different things you may feel because of them. It can also seem really difficult to differentiate false labor from actual true delivery. Chances are you have already got the so-called 511 rule fully explained by your preconception and obstetrics specialist. This rule refers to the 511 contractions that are meant to help you tell when you’re going into true labor. If you find the whole false vs. true labor thing very confusing, make sure to talk to your doctor about it openly. Also, we’re going to discuss this matter in more detail so that you can hopefully recognize the false delivery signs without panicking.

Braxton Hicks – False Labor Contractions

As you enter your third trimester of pregnancy, which is still a long while before the due date, your uterus will start to tighten. Because of this, it’s very common to experience contraction-like sensations during this period. Usually, these contractions don’t cause any real pain, but sometimes they might. Most women describe this pain as a sharp pang, which could make you believe you’re going into labor.

These false labor contractions are not a product of the modern lifestyle. Women had to differentiate 511 contractions from false ones since the very beginning. In the 19th century, an English doctor called John Braxton Hicks was the one who offered an explanation for these false labor contractions, believing they had the purpose of bettering the fluid and blood circulation in the uterus. This is the reason why today we use the term “Braxton Hicks (contractions)” to describe these sensations. Contemporary doctors find these false contractions strengthen the uterine muscles and improve blood flow.

How to Recognize Braxton Hicks Contractions

Pregnant Woman in Pain

In general, Braxton Hicks contractions are less painful than contractions caused by true labor. There are also other signs that could help you realize that these contractions don’t follow the 511 rule and are simply false warnings:

  • You experience them less than four times in an hour
  • They do not appear in regular intervals
  • As you feel them, you don’t notice any rise in pain intensity
  • They get triggered by or completely stop when you move to a different position

Braxton Hicks contractions can also be triggered by dehydration. Dehydration can occur due to prolonged exposure to heat or because of a cold or flu. In this case, drinking a lot of water may easily stop the contractions.

These false contractions could also happen after sudden strenuous physical activity or sexual intercourse, as well as when the bladder is full. In order to get rid of them, you might have to rethink and minimize the difficulty level of your physical activity, try a different position in sex, and, obviously, take a trip to the bathroom.

Where they feel pain is also another way for women to check whether contractions indicate false or true labor. For instance, most women get Braxton Hicks contractions in a small localized area, usually the very front of the stomach. On the other hand, true labor contractions typically start in the back or affect the entire abdomen.

No Braxton Hicks Contractions

Just because it may turn out that you don’t get Braxton Hicks contractions, you don’t have to worry. Both having and not having them is perfectly normal since every woman is different. These can be so mild that it’s very easy to miss them, especially for women who are pregnant with their first child. In a similar vein, it could be challenging to recognize the first signs of pregnancy as well. What’s more, if this is the case, there may be less confusion when it’s time to follow the 511 contraction rule.

How to Tell You’re Going into True Labor

Just like there are signs to recognize Braxton Hicks contractions, there are signs to recognize true labor contractions. For instance, you may be about to go into labor if you notice:

  • Your contractions are getting closer together
  • As they happen, contractions are also getting stronger and more painful
  • You first start feeling the contractions in the back and then in the whole stomach
  • The contractions don’t stop even after you move to a different position or quit whatever activity

Aside from the above, other indications that you’re truly going into labor include getting a mucus discharge that could be bloody (but doesn’t necessarily have to be) as well as having your water break. Also, it’s possible to feel nauseated and even start vomiting at this point.

What’s the 511 Contraction Rule?

We have mentioned the 511 rule as a possible explanation your doctor provided in order to differentiate true from false labor. Essentially, when you’re truly going into labor, the cervix will get thinner and start opening. Obviously, you can’t know when this happens without having something to guide you through the sensations you feel. This is where the 511 contraction rule comes into play:

  • You can feel the contractions at regular 5-minute intervals (or even more frequently)
  • When you get a contraction, it will last for at least 1 minute
  • The contractions coming and going like this continue for at least 1 hour

If you’re having 511 contractions, it’s time to go to the hospital. There, you’ll have your cervix checked for how far it opened up and learn how long (or short) you have until delivery. 

When to Go to the Hospital

Dark-Haired Pregnant Woman in and Plaid Shirt Lying on Comfortable Grey Couch in Modern Living Room.

Even if you don’t want to go to the hospital before truly going into labor, the most important thing is to always trust your instinct. If you feel that something is wrong, don’t hesitate to call your doctor. What’s more, make sure to go to the hospital immediately if you notice:

  • You can’t feel your baby moving in your belly
  • You start bleeding a lot more than what could be described as spotting
  • You start getting unusual vision changes and headaches and/or find it difficult to breathe

Many pregnant women have gone to the doctor because of false labor symptoms, and many more will. There’s nothing unusual or embarrassing about that. Your doctor will realize what’s happening and send you home to rest. The important thing is that you’ll get some peace of mind.

Just like it isn’t always easy for women to recognize signs of pregnancy in its beginning, it’s also not easy for some women to differentiate between false and true labor. The sensations and body changes vary for everyone. Still, you should always rely on your doctor and address every single thing you feel unsure about with them. That way, you can ensure your baby’s health as well as keep yourself healthy both mentally and physically. In case you’re planning to have a child, feel free to reach out to us at University Park OBGYN and talk to our preconception and obstetrics specialist. We’re there for you every step of the way when your sexual and reproductive health is concerned.