Pregnancy and Parenting Features

How to Know Whether it’s Real Labor or Braxton Hicks

Most women will experience Braxton Hicks contractions before experiencing real labor. These “false labor pains” are normal, and nothing to be alarmed about. Some women experience Braxton Hicks contractions while they’re still in their second trimester. Others experience the false contractions late in the third trimester, when you would expect to have true labor pains.

Braxton Hicks may seem like actual labor pains, especially to new mothers who have never experienced labor before. Knowing the difference can save you and your partner a frenzied (and unnecessary) trip to the hospital or two.

Here are the identifying characteristics of Braxton Hicks contractions:

  • Abdominal tightening. This tightening feeling will come and go.
  • Non-painful contractions. Most women describe Braxton Hicks as feeling similar to mild menstrual cramping.
  • Contractions at irregular intervals. The duration of the contractions doesn’t increase, and the interval between them doesn’t steadily decrease.
  • Contractions don’t increase when you walk.

Look for these signs that you are experiencing actual labor:

  • Discomfort or ache in your abdomen or lower back.
  • Pressure on your pelvis.
  • Painful sensation in your thigh or sides.
  • Contractions become stronger when you walk.
  • Contractions feel like strong menstrual cramps or diarrhea.
  • Interval between contractions is becoming lower.
  • Contractions are growing in intensity.
  • Contractions are growing closer together.

If you’re not sure whether the contractions you’re experiencing are actual labor or Braxton Hicks, it’s better to err on the side of caution. Call your doctor or health care provider and get her input. In the end, it’s better to go to the hospital and need to leave than to stay home when you should have gone to the hospital.

While Braxton Hicks contractions aren’t dangerous, they can still be unpleasant. If you are feeling uncomfortable because of Braxton Hicks, you can:

  • Go for a walk.
  • Go to sleep
  • Lay down and rest
  • Use relaxation techniques
  • Eat a small meal or snack
  • Make sure you’re drinking enough water.
  • Treat yourself to a massage

In most cases, Braxton Hicks contractions subside fairly quickly. In any case, they’re nothing to be worried about. Most doctors agree that Braxton Hicks are caused by your baby moving around and getting ready for the “real thing.”


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