When a mother gets close to her due date, she may experience Braxton Hicks contractions. It can be difficult to tell whether or not the contractions are true labor or a false labor. Fortunately, there are a few qualifications for labor that you can use to determine what exactly you’re experiencing.
Pregnancy comes with a lot of changes to your body. A few of them are fun, and other ones can be difficult, like lower back pain. For some expectant parents, labor can’t come soon enough. Unfortunately, sometimes we can mistake Braxton Hicks contractions for the real thing.
Braxton Hicks can be disappointing. You’re excited to meet your new baby, and if you think they’re coming soon, finding out that you’ve had a false start can be discouraging. However, if you’re armed with the proper information, you can determine what you’re experiencing and why. Braxton Hicks contractions do have a purpose, after all.
What Are Braxton Hicks Contractions?
Braxton Hicks contractions occur when the mother’s uterus irregularly contracts. It’s similar to a menstrual cramp. Instead of lasting for a longer period of time, like cramps, Braxton Hicks contractions typically only last for a few seconds to a couple of minutes.
A contraction is when the uterus tightens and relaxes. When a mother is in labor, these contractions help push the baby out of the uterus. Braxton Hicks contractions won’t help push the baby out of the womb, but they can help prepare the uterus and cervix for true labor, especially when the mother nears the end of the third trimester.
Many people call Braxton Hicks contractions “practice contractions” because they’re the body’s way of preparing you for labor. It’s an opportune time to practice the breathing techniques that you will use during labor.
If you’re worried about mistaking Braxton Hicks for labor, you can talk to your OB/GYN or midwife to discuss what you’re experiencing. They are equipped to help mothers throughout their pregnancies. Your medical team will have questions that they can ask to help you figure out what exactly is going on.
If you’re not sure if you should go to the hospital, you can talk to your healthcare provider, so they can help you figure it out.
What Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Feel Like?
Since they’re called practice contractions, you can expect some discomfort when you’re experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions. However, they aren’t usually as intense as labor contractions.
Every mother’s experience is different, but Braxton Hicks contractions feel more like menstrual cramps. They also don’t increase in intensity or start happening closer together. You can feel the top of your uterine muscles tighten, and it moves downward. Your abdomen will feel hard and slightly pointed.
Where Do You Feel Braxton Hicks?
Generally, Braxton Hicks contractions are felt in the front of your abdomen. Normally, Braxton Hicks won’t be felt in the lower part of your uterus or your lower back.
When Might I Start Feeling Braxton Hicks?
Since everyone experiences pregnancy differently, there isn’t really a way that you can predict when you’ll start having Braxton Hicks contractions. Some mothers might experience them as early as their second trimester, while other mothers may not experience them at all.
Most Braxton Hicks contractions occur during the third trimester. They might also increase in intensity as the due date nears.
It’s important to be able to tell if you are in the early stages of labor, even if you’re in the second trimester. Sometimes, mothers will experience preterm labor, so they will need to go to the hospital. Just because you’re experiencing labor too early doesn’t mean that you’re experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions.
If you are close to your due date and you’re experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions, it can also be a good reminder to check on your hospital bag to ensure that you have everything ready.
Fortunately, there are a few tricks you can use to tell if you’re in labor or you’re just experiencing Braxton Hicks Contractions.
How Can I Tell the Difference Between Braxton Hicks and Labor?
Although Braxton Hicks contractions are uncomfortable, they are very different from true labor contractions. They usually will stay about the same, while labor contractions increase in intensity and they start to grow closer together.
Labor contractions are usually consistent and occur at regular intervals, but Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular and unpredictable. They’ll usually last anywhere from 15 seconds to two minutes. They don’t have a rhythm, but if you’re in labor, you’ll be able to guess when a contraction will start again.
True labor contractions are usually stronger with each contraction. Braxton Hicks contractions might start out weak, get stronger, and then become weak again, or they may start out strong and then become weak.
After a bit, you may notice Braxton Hicks contractions fade away and disappear. Sometimes just changing your position can cause them to vanish. Basically, if it’s inconsistent, it could be Braxton Hicks contractions.
Although Braxton Hicks contractions aren’t concerning on their own, you may need to call the doctor if you notice any of these symptoms:
- You notice changes in your baby’s movement
- Your baby is moving less than six times within an hour
- You have bright red vaginal bleeding
- You can’t walk through your contractions
- Your water breaks, so you feel a gushing or leaking of fluid
- Strong contractions that are five minutes apart for a full hour
The last three symptoms are signs of true labor. Most women should be able to walk through Braxton Hicks contractions, but true labor contractions will eventually become so intense that you won’t be able to walk or speak.
Other signs of labor can be loss of the mucus plug and bloody show.
What Does True Labor Feel Like?
Every mother will probably experience labor differently. However, usually, the contractions are strong. Most likely, you’ll feel pain in your lower abdomen, cervix, and back. You may even experience pain in your upper legs and hips and other areas of your body.
You might also notice pressure building in your pelvic region during a true labor contraction.
Why Am I Experiencing Braxton Hicks?
There are many things that can trigger Braxton Hicks. No one is certain why Braxton Hicks contractions happen, but it’s theorized that they are solely intended to prepare the body for labor by softening the cervix and toning uterine muscles.
Sometimes Braxton Hicks contractions start of their own accord, but they can also be triggered by other things. You may notice them after having sex or if your bladder is full. If you or your baby are active, you can also cause these false labor contractions. They can even be triggered if someone touches the mother’s belly.
Dehydration is a common cause of Braxton Hicks contractions. It’s important to drink enough water for the health of yourself and your baby, but avoiding Braxton Hicks is another positive side effect.
Braxton Hicks contractions can be easily started, but, fortunately for pregnant women, there are also easy ways to stop them.
Can I Stop Them?
One of the primary differences between real labor contractions and Braxton Hicks contractions is that you can alleviate the discomfort or pain of your contractions. The discomfort that comes with labor can’t really be alleviated unless you are between contractions.
One of the easiest ways to relieve yourself of pain during a Braxton Hicks contraction is to change positions or activities. If you’ve been standing or walking, you can lie down and relax. If you’ve been relaxing, you can get up and walk around.
If you have a full bladder, it might help to go to the bathroom. If that doesn’t seem to help, you can also try taking a warm bath (but not a hot one). It can help relax your muscles, so they won’t be quite as tight. You can also try to get a prenatal massage, which has a similar effect to a warm bath.
It’s also recommended that you drink water. You don’t need to drink a gallon, but a couple of glasses of water can help. You could also try a cup of warm herbal tea or warm milk.
If you’re experiencing true contractions, these methods may help mothers relax a little more, but they won’t alleviate the difficulty of the labor contractions themselves.
Getting Ready for Your Baby’s Arrival
Waiting for your baby to come involves a pretty impressive to-do list, from adorable things like washing and folding baby clothes in the nursery to frustrating things like Braxton Hicks contractions. Even though they can be annoying, your body is preparing to help your baby arrive so that everything can go as smoothly as possible.
Even though Braxton Hicks contractions are a false alarm, they do seem to serve a purpose. They help your uterus prepare for true uterine contractions since stronger muscles can help during labor.
Braxton Hicks contractions usually won’t feel as strong as the real thing. They’re more like mild cramps than real contractions. However, every mother has different experiences. Some mothers may feel these sensations intensely, so it’s important to be able to recognize the other differences between true labor and false labor.
Even though you will still be waiting for your baby to arrive, there are plenty of other things you can do with this extra time, like looking into other aspects of pregnancy, birth, and your baby’s development.
5 questions about Braxton Hicks contractions | Mayo Clinic Health System
Braxton Hicks Contractions | American Pregnancy Association
Braxton Hicks Contractions: Overview & What They Feel Like | clevelandclinic.org