Braxton Hicks or True Labor Contractions?

Before “true” labor begins, you may have “false” labor pains, also known as Braxton Hicks contractions. These irregular uterine contractions are perfectly normal and may start to occur as early as the second trimester, although they are more common duringĀ the third trimester of pregnancy. They are your body’s way of getting ready for the “real thing.”

What Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Feel Like?

Braxton Hicks contractions can be described as tightening in the abdomen that comes and goes. These contractions are typically not painful and do not occur at regular intervals. They do notĀ get closer together, do not increase with walking, do not increase in how long they last, and do not feel stronger over time as they do when you are in true labor.

What Do True Labor Contractions Feel Like?

The way a true labor contraction feels is different for each woman and may feel different from one pregnancy to the next. Labor contractions cause discomfort or a dull ache in your back and/or lower abdomen, along with pressure in the pelvis. Some women may also feel pain in their sides and thighs. Some women describe contractions as strong menstrual cramps, while others describe them as strong waves that feel like diarrhea cramps.

How Do I Know When Contractions Indicate I Am in True Labor?

To figure out if the contractions you are feeling are the real thing and you’re going into labor, ask yourself the following questions.

Contraction Characteristics

False Labor

True Labor

How often do the contractions occur?

Contractions are often irregular and do not get closer together

Contractions come at regular intervals and last about 30-70 seconds. As time goes on, they get closer together.

Do they change with movement?

Contractions may stop when you walk or rest, or may even stop if you change positions

Contractions continue despite movement or changing positions

How strong are they?

Contractions are usually weak and do not get much stronger. Or they may be strong at first and then get weaker.

Contractions steadily increase in strength

Where do you feel the pain?

Contractions are usually only felt in the front of the abdomen or pelvic region

Contractions usually start in the lower back and move to the front of the abdomen

If you have signs of true labor, contact your health care provider immediately. But if you’re unsure, call your health care provider anyway. If you are experiencing any of the following you may be in true labor.

  • Contractions (tightening of the muscles in the uterus which cause discomfort or a dull ache in the lower abdomen) every 10 minutes or more than five contractions in an hour.
  • Regular tightening or pain in your back or lower abdomen.
  • Pressure in the pelvis or vagina.
  • Menstrual-like cramps.
  • Bleeding.
  • Fluid leak.
  • Flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

In contrast, if you are having Braxton Hicks contractions, you really don’t need to do anything unless they are causing you discomfort. If they are making you uncomfortable try the following:

  • Take a walk. False labor contractions often stop when you change position or get up and walk.
  • Get some sleep or rest.
  • Relax.
  • Drink water, juice, or herbal tea.
  • Eat a snack or small meal.
  • Get a massage.

I Sometimes Have Pain on the Side of My Stomach. Is This True Labor?

Probably not. Sharp, shooting pains on either side of your abdomen (called round ligament pain) that travel into the groin may result from stretching ligaments that support your growing uterus.

To ease the discomfort in your sides:

  • Try changing your position or activity.
  • Make sure you are drinking enough fluids (at least 6 to 8 glasses of water, juice, or milk per day).
  • Try to rest.

I Am Afraid to Keep Bothering My Health Care Provider With “False Alarms.” When Should I Call My Health Care Provider?

Your health care provider is available any time to answer your questions and to ease your concerns about whether or not your contractions are signs of true or false labor. Don’t be afraid to call your provider if you are not sure what it is you are feeling. He or she may ask you some questions to help determine if you are truly in labor. If there’s any question at all, it’s better to be evaluated by your health care provider.

It is essential to call your health care provider at any time if you have:

  • Any vaginal bleeding.
  • Continuous leaking of fluid or wetness, or if your water breaks (can be felt as a “gushing” of fluid).
  • Strong contractions every 5 minutes for an hour.
  • Contractions that you are unable to “walk through.”
  • A noticeable change in your baby’s movement or if you feel less than 10 movements every two hours.
  • Any symptoms of contractions if you are not yet 37 weeks.

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