Braxton Hicks Contractions Vs. Real Labor

Julie Kirk
Pregnant woman having Braxton Hicks contractions

Braxton Hicks contractions are a mild tightening or cramping that may come and go during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. While Braxton Hicks contractions are completely normal, it is important to be able to tell the difference between them and real labor.

What Is the Difference Between Braxton Hicks and Real Contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions are fairly common and typically considered practice contractions that prepares for labor. However, it is important to know that they're not a sign you're in labor and will not cause your cervix to dilate. There are a number of ways that Braxton Hicks contractions can be differentiated from actual contractions.

Braxton Hicks Contractions

Signs that you are experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions include:

  • You may feel some discomfort, but they are typically not painful.
  • You will feel more of a general tightness in your lower abdomen.
  • The intervals between contractions are irregular and will vary.
  • The strength of the contractions will vary and they will not get progressively stronger.
  • The contractions happen infrequently and not in a rhythmic pattern.
  • The contractions do not increase in intensity or frequency.
  • The contractions will lessen, taper off and disappear.
  • Your water has not broke.
  • There's no progression in labor.

Real Labor Contractions

Signs that you are in real labor include:

  • The contractions are painful and will increase in intensity.
  • The contractions are more frequent and more regular.
  • You will feel real contractions throughout the abdomen that radiates to lower back.
  • The intervals between contractions become shorter.
  • The contractions will develop a consistent pattern.
  • Real contractions will last about 30 seconds at first and progressively get longer, up to one minute long.

Why Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Happen?

While many women experience Braxton Hicks contractions, some do not. The contractions themselves are actually the uterine muscles tightening. This type of contraction does not cause the onset of labor. It can also be called false labor. There are a number of reasons why you may experience them, which include:

  • Physical activity of the mother
  • Fetal activity
  • Sexual activity
  • A full bladder

Dehydration is a common cause of Braxton Hicks contractions. It is important to stay hydrated during pregnancy.

Can I Stop Braxton Hicks Contractions?

While there's no clear cut treatment to stop Braxton Hicks contractions, there are things you can do to help alleviate them.

  • If you are dehydrated, you will need to drink plenty of water to rehydrate.
  • Drink warm herbal tea.
  • Lie down if you have been active.
  • Move about or go for a walk if you have been sitting.
  • Relax by taking a nap, a warm bath or getting a prenatal massage.

Contact Your Doctor if You're Unsure

It is common to mistake Braxton Hicks contractions for the start of real labor. However, you should pay attention to your contractions, time them and note their intensity so you can better inform your doctor. If your suspected Braxton Hicks contractions are not subsiding or if you are just not sure if you are in true labor or not, it is advised to contact your doctor immediately. This is especially important if you're less than 37 weeks pregnant, because if you are truly in labor, you may deliver your baby prematurely.

Braxton Hicks vs. Real Labor

Braxton Hicks contractions are a normal part of pregnancy and typically nothing to be concerned about. However, it is not unusual that they are confused with true contractions. If you are not sure whether you are having true contractions, your doctor will be the one to help you determine conclusively which type of contractions you are experiencing.

Braxton Hicks Contractions Vs. Real Labor