As they enter their final weeks of pregnancy, many women have what they think are labor symptoms. These symptoms, however, are actually a sign of false labor, which is the result of the body's preparing itself for childbirth by dilating the cervix, and periodically contracting the muscles of the uterus. False labor is caused by these contractions, known as Braxton Hicks contractions. In most cases, these contractions subside when the mother changes position, or moves around. Resting or relaxing can also help them to stop.
It can be difficult, especially for first-time mothers-to-be, to distinguish false labor from true labor. One way to tell the difference is to time the contractions. Braxton Hicks contractions usually last 15 to 30 seconds, and occur irregularly and infrequently, unlike real contractions, which occur often, and become more frequent and intense. In most cases, Braxton Hicks contractions are harmless and not cause for concern. If, however, they continue and become more intense, last longer than usual, and are accompanied by back pain and cramping that does not subside, they may be a sign of true labor. A woman should immediately contact her doctor if she suspects that is the case.