False labor can feel much like active labor, especially for a new mother. Braxton Hicks contractions can begin in the second trimester. These contractions are used to prepare the uterus for actual birth when the time comes. Most often, false labor consists of strong Braxton Hicks contractions. Think of these as exercises for the uterus.
False labor may present with pains in the abdomen and back as well as a contracting or tightening of the uterus. This is common and expected. False labor does not, however, cause effacement or thinning of the cervix. But pregnant women are not be able to measure their own cervix so how can she tell the difference between false labor contractions and active contractions? Active labor contractions are progressive. They will start off light and progress to stronger, harder pains. The time between contractions also progresses. In the beginning of active labor, contractions come at intervals of 20 to 30 minutes. As labor progresses, the time slowly gets shorter and shorter until contractions come at even intervals of around two minutes.
Walking is another way to tell false labor from real labor. Braxton Hicks contractions tend to ease off when mom walks around or rests. This is not true of real labor contractions. The location of the contractions is different as well. Real contractions tend to present in the lower back and spread to the front of the abdomen. False labor contractions is characterized with pain in the front and pelvic area.
When in question, always contact the attending physician about pains and contractions. Having questions answered is often enough to keep a pregnant woman from heading to the hospital way too early.