The reason that the term "false labor" has fallen out of fashion is because it is discrediting the mother's experience. Calling her sensations a "false labor" could make her feel invalidated. She wonders, "Did I imagine that pain?" and "If this was false labor, what's real labor going to feel like?" She might also doubt herself. "They told me when it was time, I would know, but then I was wrong!"
The thing about prodromal labor is that although it can happen in any pregnancy, it is more common in a subsequent one. This can be an extra frustrating to an experienced mom who has already been through labor before and is just sure she will recognize it when it comes again.
Another important reason to shy away from calling it "false" labor is that it incorrectly assumes that the contractions aren't DOING anything. This is simply not true! Every contraction does something, whether it is toning the uterus (like warming up before a long run) or making changes in the cervix.
Labor progresses in six ways, but most people only think of dilation when talking about whether a woman is progressing. Prodromal labor contractions often prepare the body for labor in one of the other ways, such as moving the cervix from posterior to anterior (from back to front) softening/ripening it (it goes from firm like the tip of your nose to soft like your lips) or effacing/thinning it. This is the shortening of the length of the cervix, often measured in percents. If you've ever seen my balloon demonstration, then you understand why effacement is so important!
These changes may all take place in one fluid, linear labor (more common in a first pregnancy) or in choppy pieces (more common in subsequent ones). Often women will notice that contractions will come in the evening, maybe even starting to establish a pattern. If they are smart, these moms will first text or call me to give me a heads-ups, and then eat, drink and go try to sleep. Perhaps they will wake up the next morning and realize, "Guess that wasn't it!"
If it is it, hopefully they can catch a few hours of sleep or even just some rest before things get really intense.
True active labor contractions will get longer, stronger, and closer together. No matter what you are doing. Walking, resting, bathing, showering, thinking about them, not thinking about them, timing them, ignoring them or wishing with all your might that they would go away. It won't matter.
Prodromal labor, however, will usually respond to changes you make. Often drinking more water will help quiet these contractions down. Also, sometimes a long prodromal labor (non-patterned contractions over days or even weeks!) can be because your body is trying to move your baby to a better position. Try the Miles Circuit to help with this one.
And remember, I always want to know what's going on. I would rather have many "false alarms" then have a mother NOT call me when its really time because she isn't sure that this is it. Think of it this way. You can be 100 percent sure that you know when NOT to call.
Am I in labor right now? Nope.
Could I be? Nope.
If you can't answer nope to both of these questions, its a good idea to give me a heads-up. If nothing else, I will listen to you have a contraction or two on the phone and let you know what I think and set a time for us to check in with each other again.