How to Tell If You're Really in Labor

pregnancy early labor pains

You're due any day now and suddenly it hits you: An incredible wave of pain stretching across your abdomen that can only mean one thing. You're in labor! Or are you? How can you be sure? You could just be experiencing Braxton Hicks labor, or "false" labor. That's your body's way of practicing for labor pains -- but you're still not ready to have that baby yet. In fact, if you're having false labor, all you really need to do is relax, maybe take a walk, and make yourself comfortable. But labor is something else. 

Once you start getting real labor pains, you should let your doctor or midwife know and then start timing how long and far apart your pains are. Before you have that baby, make sure you know the difference between early labor pains, Braxton Hicks contractions, and just plain ol' cramps. Here are 11 common labor-like symptoms and whether they're most likely labor pains or Braxton Hicks.

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1. Symptom: Pain moves from your abdomen to your back, or from your back to your abdomen. 

Most likely: Real labor. 

2. Symptom: Sight pressure on your lower abdomen that isn't painful.

Most likely: Braxton Hicks

3. Symptom: Tightening of your abdomen that comes and goes, but not in a set pattern.

Most likely: Braxton Hicks

4. Symptom: Belly pressure that goes away when you shift positions or walk.

Most likely: Braxton Hicks 

5. Symptom: A dull ache in your lower back along with pressure in your pelvis.

Most likely: Real labor.

More from CafeMom: Signs of Labor: Real Contractions or Braxton-Hicks?

6. Symptom: Waves of pain that feel like diarrhea cramps.

Most likely: Real labor.

7. Symptom: Cramps that get closer together over time.

Most likely: Real labor. False labor doesn't usually intensify over time.

8. Symptom: Cramps get stronger over time.

Most likely: Real labor. 

9. Symptom: Slight pressure on your lower abdomen that isn't painful.

Most likely: Braxton Hicks

10. Symptom: Pain in your thighs.

Most likely: Real labor. You may also feel pain in your sides.

11. Symptom: Cramps get weaker over time.

Most likely: Braxton Hicks

Labor pains can feel differently for different women. When in doubt, call your health care provider. Better safe than sorry! Even if you end up describing what turns out to be Braxton Hicks contractions, at least you'll know.