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For families that are expecting in New York City (particularly those couples set to become first-time parents), the final few weeks of pregnancy can be filled with excitement. All of those involved look forward to that moment when they realize that it is time to go to the hospital to have their babies. Perhaps that is why few things are more disheartening than making such a visit, only to be then sent home. False labor is common in pregnancy. However, if a woman is sent home when her labor is truly progressing, every minute she and her baby are not being monitored could increase the risk of complications. So when should one be sent home for false labor? 

Starting in the second trimester, an expectant mother may begin to experience Braxton Hicks contractions. These are characterized by the muscles of the uterus tightening between one or two minutes (similar to the contractions felt during delivery). As the due date approaches, such contractions become more frequent. Yet they do not necessarily signal the onset of active labor. The American Pregnancy Association lists certain factors that help differentiate normal Braxton Hicks from true labor contractions, such as: 

  • Frequency
  • Duration
  • Location
  • Activity

True labor contractions occur at regular intervals, whereas Braxton Hicks vary with a woman’s activity level. Braxton Hicks contractions also vary in duration, and are typically concentrated in the abdominal area. True labor contractions will usually last 30-60 seconds and slowly begin to be felt in the lower back.

Yet even with these indicators, it may still be difficult to tell if one is actually in active labor without determining if her cervix is effaced and dilated (which can be only be done through an examination). According to Parents magazine, dilation of 4 centimeters indicates active labor. 

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