Real vs False Labor


All Growing Generations’ surrogates are mothers and have likely experienced labor already, but for most, it is likely that a few years have passed since the delivery of their last biological child and their first surrogate child. It’s helpful to refresh your memory on the differences between true labor and Braxton-Hicks (false) labor as the due date approaches.

True Labor

The marks of true labor are contractions that occur at regular intervals over an extended period of time. These contractions will generally start with a tightness or pain in the lower back and abdominal area. In general, these contractions will continue to get longer, stronger, and closer together over a period of several hours.

Unlike false labor contractions, true labor contractions cannot be halted by rest, walking, or increased hydration. Additionally, true labor is also often marked by an increase in bleeding from the vagina (called “show”) as tiny blood vessels begin to rupture due to cervical softening or opening. Membrane rupture (“water breaking”) is another sign of true labor. In general, your doctor will not need you to report to the hospital until your contractions are occurring for an hour at a rate of five minutes apart and lasting for one minute at a time.

False Labor

Also known as Braxton-Hicks contractions, false labor pains can feel just as convincing as true labor. The tightening of the abdomen is often described by doctors as the uterus flexing and building strength in preparation for true labor. Many scientists report that these “practice contractions” can begin as early as 12 weeks gestation, however, most pregnant women will not feel them with any regularity until the mid-second or third trimesters.

False labor contractions can easily be mistaken for true labor as the delivery date approaches and you begin to look for signs of impending labor. However, unlike true labor contractions, Braxton-Hicks contractions will not gain in intensity, length, or frequency over several hours. In fact, they often stop all together with an increase in hydration or walking. These contractions are not working to soften or open the cervix and will not lead to additional labor signs.

The best way to tell the difference between true and false labor is to be acutely aware of your body and the contractions you’re experiencing. Perhaps the simplest way to do this is with the use of a smart phone contraction tracker.

Available through both the Android and Apple Apps platforms, these trackers will help you note the frequency, duration, and in some cases, intensity of your contractions. Some apps can even email reports of your contractions to your doctor or Intended Parents to keep them in the loop as the big moment approaches.

Dr. Kim Bergman

Kim Bergman, PhD, a licensed psychologist of 26 years, has specialized in the area of gay and lesbian parenting, parenting by choice and third party assisted reproduction for over two decades. Dr. Bergman has created a comprehensive psychological screening, support and monitoring process for Intended Parents, Surrogates and Donors. She is the co-owner of Fertility Counseling Services and Growing Generations and is a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the American Psychological Association, the Los Angeles County Psychological Association, the Lesbian and Gay Psychotherapy Association, and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. She is on the national Emeritus board of the Family Equality Council. Dr. Bergman writes, teaches and speaks extensively on parenting by choice. Along with co-authors, she published “Gay Men Who Become Fathers via Surrogacy: The Transition to Parenthood” (Journal of GLBT Family Studies, April 2010). Dr. Bergman’s is the author of the upcoming book, Your Future Family: The Essential Guide to Assisted Reproduction (Conari Press 2019). Dr. Bergman created her own family using third party assisted reproduction and she lives with her wife of 35 years. Her two daughters are in college.