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There I was – almost seven months pregnant, sitting in my office chair and eating snacks instead of, you know, doing my job. Suddenly, I felt it. There was a strange tightening across my belly. It was a not-so-gentle pull from inside the depths of my abdomen. I silently wondered: “What is it? Is it merely Braxton Hicks or contractions?”
Just as quickly as the strange feeling came over me, however, I made a rash discovery. I didn’t actually know what a Braxton Hicks contraction was or how it was supposed to feel!
There I sat, trying to figure out whether it was false labor or the real deal. Not the most opportune time to determine I really didn’t know what to expect while I was expecting!
If you’re clueless like I was, you probably have no idea how to distinguish between Braxton Hicks vs. labor contractions. Even though everyone always tells you that you’ll “just know” when it’s actual labor, that’s not always the case.
I mean, yes, when tried and true contractions actually strike, there’s usually a significant difference between those and false labor pains.
The problem is, though; until you’ve gone through pregnancy and delivery, any slight ache and pain can seem like “the real deal.”
Luckily for you, however, we’ve done the research, talked to our community of moms, and answered all of your questions about figuring out whether you’re experiencing Braxton Hicks or labor contractions.
What Are Braxton Hicks Contractions?
Braxton Hicks contractions, otherwise known as “practice contractions,” are a common side effect of pregnancy that usually begins during the second trimester.
During a Braxton Hicks contraction, a woman’s uterus will tighten up, usually for around 30-60 seconds, but sometimes as long as two minutes.
While sometimes uncomfortable, this type of contraction is relatively painless. Braxton Hicks feel like a slight tightening across your belly. They usually begin towards the top of your uterine muscles and move down across your abdomen, causing your stomach to become hard for the duration of the contraction.
Don’t be alarmed if you also notice your baby bump taking on a pointy shape during a Braxton Hicks – this is completely normal!
One easy way to tell if you’re dealing with Braxton Hicks or contractions is the frequency of the sensation. While true labor contractions can be timed and are more consistent, Braxton Hicks are very sporadic.
As labor approaches, however, they tend to happen more frequently, and their intensity increases.
What Causes Braxton Hicks Contractions?
Despite the fact that Braxton Hicks contractions don’t play a role in dilating a woman’s uterus, this doesn’t mean they’re not still productive. They’re often a result of the uterus toning itself for delivery.
As expectant mothers begin experiencing frequent Braxton Hicks, many healthcare practitioners also think they can help blood flow to their uteruses and aid with cervical softening.
More specifically, however, Braxton Hicks are often triggered by certain actions or circumstances, such as:
- Intense Exercise or High Levels of Activity
- Becoming Dehydrated
- Having Sex
- Having Your Belly Touched
- Full Bladders
What Are True Labor Contractions?
I hate to be the one to say it after I just complained, but once true labor contractions begin…you’ll know.
I’m sure you’re all looking for more factual information than that, though, so here we go! The most trusted way to tell that you’re dealing with real labor is how often they’re coming.
Not only does this mean you’ll be having contractions at regular intervals, but they’ll also gain speed as your labor progresses. While they might start 10-15 minutes apart, you’ll begin to notice them coming more frequently.
They won’t just gain in momentum, though; they’ll also start getting more intense and painful.
Usually, true labor contractions can be felt in a woman’s lower back or belly. They also tend to resemble intense period pains.
How Can You Tell if You’re Having Braxton Hicks or Contractions?
Are you still confused about whether you’ve just had Braxton Hicks vs. labor contractions? No worries! Use our contractions vs. Braxton Hicks quiz to figure it out!
1. Do Your Contractions Go Away After Drinking a Glass of Water?
Since dehydration can play a significant role in the presence of Braxton Hicks, some doctors suggest drinking a glass of water to help you figure out whether you’re dealing with false labor or the real deal.
If the water helps to settle the sensation, you’ve got Braxton Hicks on your hands.
2. Does Movement Change Your Contractions?
Movement can be an indicator as to whether you’re dealing with Braxton Hicks or contractions. If the pain doesn’t subside by switching positions, taking a walk, or moving in general, you’re probably dealing with genuine labor.
3. Are Your Contractions Getting Stronger or Weaker?
If you’re in labor, your contractions will only get stronger as you progress. With Braxton Hicks, however, they will either remain mild all the way through or start strong and then weaken as they end.
4. Have You Recently Had Sex or an Orgasm?
So, you’ve just gotten done doing the deed and had the best orgasm of your life. A few minutes later, contractions start. While you might assume your bedroom activities have thrown you into labor, this is usually a sign you’ve triggered some Braxton Hicks.
5. Where Do Your Contractions Hurt?
For many soon-to-be moms, real labor contractions start in their back and then move around to the front of their belly. With Braxton Hicks, however, you’ll only feel the contraction in the front.
6. Could You Have a UTI?
While we’ve already covered the fact that a full bladder can cause Braxton Hicks, here’s one more reason you shouldn’t be holding your pee:
If you’re experiencing a lot of false labor and suspect you have a UTI, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
7. How Frequently Are You Having Contractions?
If your contractions are coming irregularly and aren’t getting closer together, this is a clear-cut symptom of Braxton Hicks.
Some doctors use something known as the 5-1-1 rule to help you time out your contractions. If your contractions meet the following guidelines, you should call your healthcare provider:
- Your contractions are coming every 5 minutes.
- Your contractions are lasting at least 1 minute.
- Your contractions have been consistently happening for 1 hour.
What If You’re Having Really Painful Braxton Hicks?
So, I know I said they aren’t supposed to hurt, but now and then, you can end up having some really painful Braxton Hicks contractions. I remember moments, for example, when mine would take my breath away.
If you’re concerned about the intensity of your Braxton Hicks, the first thing you should do is go back to the Braxton Hicks vs. labor contractions questions above. And if you’re still concerned, call your care team! There is absolutely no harm in asking questions.
If you’re certain your contractions aren’t true labor, there are things you can do to help calm them down, such as:
- Get Moving: While you don’t want to over-exert yourself, going for a short walk can help alleviate Braxton Hicks.
- Drink Some Water: Just in case your body is becoming dehydrated, it’s always a good idea to drink water when you have frequent Braxton Hicks.
- Take a Warm Bath: While hot tubs aren’t safe during pregnancy, a warm bath is a great way to relax. You should just avoid staying in the tub for more than 30 minutes.
- Drink a Hot Tea: A nice cup of tea can help your body relax during intense false labor contractions. Want to enjoy your drink even more? Make sure to put it in a funny mom mug!
Does False Labor Mean Real Labor is On Its Way?
While this might be true for some women, it’s not the case for everyone – like me.
Throughout my third trimester, I had near-constant Braxton Hicks…all day, every day. When I say constant, however, they still weren’t consistent enough to actually make them labor contractions.
I was always in fear, though, that my daughter was set to arrive any moment.
In fact, I became convinced I’d have one of those birth stories where she just fell out while I was driving to work one day or something equally impressive.
Alas, as I approached my 42nd week of pregnancy (yes, you read that correctly), I finally accepted that my long-lasting war with Braxton Hicks was no indicator that labor was right around the corner.
So no, having frequent Braxton Hicks towards the end of your pregnancy doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be rushing to your hospital or birthing center any time soon.
At the same time, though, you could.
Just pay attention to your body, go over our list of questions about whether you’re having Braxton Hicks or contractions, and take your days a moment at a time.
Braxton Hicks vs. Labor Contractions: When Should You Call Your Doctor?
Are you wondering when it’s time to call your doctor about your Braxton Hicks or contractions? For starters, if you’ve answered our previous questions or the 5-1-1 rule applies to you, you should probably get in touch with your doctor.
There are other reasons you might want to call your doctor, including:
- If you notice your baby isn’t moving as much as they were previously.
- If your water breaks or you’re leaking fluid.
- If you experience any vaginal bleeding.
Don’t Feel Bad if You’re Confused About Whether They’re Braxton Hicks or Contractions
Trust us; we get it–even with this article, you’re still bound to feel confused about whether you’re experiencing Braxton Hicks vs. labor contractions.
The biggest takeaway from this should always be to seek out help if you think you need it.
So what if you end up going to the hospital with false labor pains?! You wouldn’t be the first! If you’re concerned about really painful Braxton Hicks or frequent Braxton Hicks, it’s better to stay on the side of safety than risk not being seen when you need to be.
Have you ever been confused about whether you were experiencing Braxton Hicks or contractions?
Kristen Bergeron is a freelance writer from Florida. In addition to writing, she is a wife, mother of two beautiful girls, Hadley and Scarlett, and a part-time photographer. After overcoming infertility and having two successful IVF cycles, she’s made it a personal goal to help educate men and women on the realities of fertility struggles. She is passionate about supporting fellow women who are trying to navigate the complicated world of conception, pregnancy, and learning to be the best mothers we can be.