We’ve all seen the TV shows featuring a harried father rushing his wife to the hospital only to be told what she thought was labor, was just a false alarm. So how do you know for sure?
First of all, it’s important to note that what TV calls a false alarm is often just early labor. Early labor can go on for DAYS. During this time, you’ll experience mild, irregular contractions that may feel indistinguishable from the Braxton Hicks contractions you’ve grown accustomed to having. It is often women in this stage that go the hospital only to be told to return home. It isn’t exactly that they aren’t in labor at all, but rather that there is a very long way to go until they’ll be giving birth.
Over time, the contractions get more regular, coming closer and closer together, lasting longer, and becoming more difficult to manage. This can happen slowly, or it can happen quickly. The trick is getting to the hospital at the right time. Common advice is to notify your doctor when your contractions are strong (a euphemism for painful) and coming every four to five minutes. If your water breaks (which usually occurs later in labor) you should notify your doctor immediately regardless of your contractions.
I hope that helps, please post any questions you might have!