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False Labor or Real Labor: Which is It?

True Labor = Contractions + Cervical Change

True Labor X Hours = Baby

Early, prodromal, and false laboradvancing in labor face

Early, prodromal, and false labor can be difficult to distinguish from one another.

Early labor can consist of regular or somewhat irregular contractions that do soften, shorten, and dilate the cervix.

Prodromal labor is the uterus “wishful thinking”: regular or irregular contractions that do not produce cervical dilation, but can produce some softening and effacement. However, prodromal labor usually occurs at thirty nine weeks or greater in gestation. It sometimes lasts for days and can evolve into true early labor.

this woman is not in labor; look at her smilingFalse labor is the uterus playing mind games with you, leading to “wishful thinking”. False Labor consists of regular uterine contractions that do not produce any cervical change. False labor can occur anywhere from thirty seven weeks onward and sometimes persists for weeks. False labor can be intermittent; can last for hours or days. It can mimic prodromal labor and early labor. It can even be painful enough to require pain medication. However, false labor is defined by absence of cervical change.


False labor and prodromal labor can result in admission to the hospital for several reasons.

  • One is to observe the labor pattern to define whether it’s false labor, prodromal labor, or true early labor.
  • A second reason can be to administer pain medication or sedation.

False labor can be very frustrating because it is uterine contractions that can be persistent, exhausting, or painful. Sedation with pain medication will usually eradicate false labor or prodromal labor, thus distinguishing these from true labor, and providing relief from pain and exhaustion. True labor will not be arrested by the sedation or pain medication used to manage false labor.


  • How many times were you sent home from the hospital before you were admitted for “labor”?
  • Did you experience prodromal labor or false labor? If so, How did you cope?
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