False or real labour?

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Q: What is false labour and how can a mother differentiate it from the real thing?

A: One of the major problems is differentiating between a latent and false labour.

The following are features of a false labour:

  • It is usually felt less strongly
  • It comes and goes irregularly
  • It will not increase in intensity or frequency
  • Lying down usually decreases the pain
  • Foetus may decrease movements in labour
  • A woman should definitely know when she is in labour and usually if there is any doubt in her mind, then she is not in true labour

Not every woman will experience all the signs of labour. However, it is useful to become familiar with some of the signs so as not to be caught unawares.

The following are signs of true labour:

  • A bloody ”show” together with contractions
  • Leaking or a gush of amniotic fluid
  • Contractions which become stronger and closer together

Q: At what stage should the mother contact her gynaecologist/midwife when in labour?

A: It is better to stay in a familiar and relaxing home environment for as long as possible. However, if at any time the mother starts to panic, there is no further benefit to her staying at home. If the mother’s waters break (as she starts to run the risk of an infection setting in) or if her contractions are strong and about 1-2 minutes apart, she should get to the hospital immediately. It is normal to have a mucous “show ”or an increase in vaginal secretions near the end of pregnancy and this is not normally cause for undue concern.

Q: How can a mother tell whether she has a urinary leak or her waters are breaking?

A: When the fore-waters break, she will normally feel a big gush. However, when the hind-waters break, it should only be sufficient to soak a sanitary pad. These waters smell sweet and a little alkaline. A mother should be careful not to confuse her waters breaking with bath/swim water, semen or urine. If any situation has taken place where the latter may be suspected, there should be no cause for concern.

(Dr Martin Puzey, registered gynaecologist )

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