Having Contractions Means I’m In Labor, Right? Not Necessarily

How will I know if it is true or false labor? Photo courtesy of Janine Kelbach

How will I know if it is true or false labor? Photo courtesy of Janine Kelbach

If you’re approaching your due date, you may be a little nervous about what to expect, and may feel like you need to rush to the hospital as soon as you feel a contraction. When you arrive, at the hospital, a labor nurse like me will help determine whether you are in labor or not. We do that by checking your cervix.

False Labor and Dehydration

The most common reason people come to the labor and delivery triage is false labor.

Mothers-to-be have contractions unrelated to labor most often because they are dehydrated. A little rule of thumb that I tell my patients is, “Your urine should look like light lemonade at all times. If it is darker than that, you are getting dehydrated.” That answers the common question of, “How much should I drink in a day?”

Why does dehydration cause contractions? When we are dehydrated, our muscles contract naturally. The uterus is a huge muscle; if it is lacking fluid, it will contract.

“I’m Having Contractions, I’d Better Go to the Hospital!”

Once you’re at the hospital, you may be admitted for suspected labor. Determining whether a woman is in labor is sometimes difficult, as painful uterine contractions alone are not sufficient to establish a diagnosis of labor. Typically, we reserve the diagnosis for uterine contractions which result in cervical dilatation and/or effacement. In other words, just because you are having contractions, that does not necessarily mean you are in labor.As medical professionals, we most likely will see if you continue to contract; if you make cervical change, you’re a keeper!


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