How can I tell the difference between false labor and the real thing?
When actual labor sets in, contractions get longer, stronger, and closer together -- and they won't stop or decrease in intensity if you walk around or change position. You'll also see a bloody show (heavy discharge that's pinkish or blood-streaked), and, of course, it's possible that your water will break.
With false labor, however, contractions won't be regular (you might have three that are four minutes apart, and then nothing for 20 minutes). They also won’t get closer together or progressively more painful, and should ease up if you get up and walk, or change positions. You might also feel baby moving around during the contractions (but call your OB if baby seems frantic). If you see blood in false labor, it should be brownish (probably from an internal exam or from having sex in the past day or two). Afraid to head to the hospital because it might not be the real thing? Don't be. The worst that can happen is that you'll have to get back in your car and go home. You might feel embarrassed, but the labor and delivery (or emergency room) staff are used to false alarms. Don't ignore labor symptoms for fear of being wrong. Better to show up early than late!
Plus, more from The Bump:
Signs of Labor
Braxton Hicks Contractions