In the weeks leading up to your due date, every little hint of sensation in your belly may cause your heart to race in excitement and make you wonder: Is this it? Am I going into labor? Should I rush to EIRMC?

Adding confusion is false labor, which may seem like the real thing.

False labor can lead to excitement, confusion or frustration. Here's how to tell if what you're experiencing is false labor or the real deal.

What is False Labor?

False labor, also known as Braxton Hicks contractions, are mild contractions of your uterus, but they don't mean your baby is ready to come. You may experience them in your second trimester, but they are most common in the third trimester.

The main difference between false labor and real labor is that false labor does not cause your cervix to dilate, says the National Institutes of Health.

What Do False Labor Contractions Feel Like?

Here are a few ways you might be able to tell if you are experiencing false labor pains. False contractions:

  • Are irregular—they can be long or short, weak or strong and may not follow any set pattern
  • Do not intensify over time
  • Do not radiate outwards toward your upper belly or back
  • Are sometimes alleviated by a change in body position
  • Might be more noticeable toward of the end of the day

Sources: National Institutes of Health and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

The American Pregnancy Association also notes that if your contractions ease up, they are probably Braxton Hicks contractions.

Is False Labor Anything to Worry About?

Generally speaking, no. But it's always safer to talk to your doctor about any symptoms that concern you, mainly for peace of mind. Being anxious about labor would not be healthy for you or your baby.

What Triggers False Labor Contractions?

  • You or your baby are very physically active
  • Someone touches your belly
  • You have a full bladder
  • You've had sex recently
  • You're dehydrated

Source: American Pregnancy Association

What Are Ways to Relieve False Labor Contractions?

Source: American Pregnancy Association, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

When Does False Labor Occur?

False labor typically happens during the last trimester of pregnancy. The National Institutes of Health notes that it can happen anywhere from a month to a day before you give birth.

This means that it can be difficult to tell real labor from false labor as your due date approaches.

If you are unsure if what you're feeling is false labor or real labor, your doctor can check your cervix for thinning or dilation. These are signs that it's the real deal.

What Are Real Contractions Like?

  • Occur regularly in specific intervals
  • These intervals get closer together as labor progresses
  • Real contractions become more intense as labor progresses
  • They last for 30 to 70 seconds, getting longer as labor progresses
  • No matter how you change positions, they keep coming
  • Radiate toward your lower back and upper belly

Source: National Institutes of Health