Ask Dr. Sears: Answers to Common Pregnancy Questions
While every woman’s pregnancy is unique, most moms-to-be share similar concerns.
Q. How can I tell the difference between false labor and the real thing?
A Veterans of childbirth may be inclined to answer this question by exclaiming, "Oh, you'll know!" But the early stages of labor, especially in a woman's first birth, can be hard to distinguish from the Braxton-Hicks or pre-labor contractions that are common in late pregnancy. So how will you know?
Contractions become more noticeable in late pregnancy, and for some mothers the precise time at which labor began can be identified only with hindsight. We use the 1-5-1 formula to recognize the beginning of the true labor. If your contractions last for at least 1 minute, are 5 minutes or less apart, and continue for at least 1 hour, it's time to call your health care provider and announce that you are in labor! The timing of contractions may not be precise to the minute, but if you chart them, you'll see the 1-5-1 pattern emerge if this is the real thing.
Pre-labor contractions tend to be irregular -- they follow no discernible pattern and do not become longer, stronger, or closer together. Changing what you are doing will often make them go away. For example, if you've been lying down, get up and take a walk. Contractions in false labor are usually only felt in the front of your body, whereas in true labor, they'll begin in the back and move toward the front. If you think you're in labor and it's well before your due date, listen to your instincts and go to the hospital. Pre-term births do happen, but they are the minority.
Arriving at the hospital only to be sent home again with a diagnosis of "false labor" is nothing to be embarrassed about. It happens to plenty of pregnant couples, especially first-timers. Pick up something good to eat on the way home and enjoy a few more days of peace and quiet before the baby comes.
Shortness of Breath
Q. I feel short of breath. Is something wrong?
A. Most shortness of breath during pregnancy has a logical explanation. As the uterus expands upward, your lungs can't expand downward as they take in air. It's like trying to breathe deeply while wearing tight jeans -- there's no room for expansion. Your body may compensate for the lower volume of air by breathing just a bit more quickly.
Good posture may help alleviate breathlessness. With your chest lifted and your shoulders back, you can breathe more easily than you can when your body sags into a slump. Sleeping with your head raised can help as well. Sudden, severe shortness of breath, accompanied by chest pain and rapid breathing, calls for immediate medical attention. This could be a blood clot in the lungs -- a rare but serious problem.