If you feel tightening in your belly during pregnancy, it might be Braxton-Hicks. This is a normal part of pregnancy and does not necessarily mean you are going into labor. It can be hard for moms (especially first-time moms) to tell the difference between true labor contractions and these “practice” contractions. This guide will help you determine the difference between braxton-hicks and regular labor contractions and tips for managing them.
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What are Braxton-Hicks Contractions?
According to NCBI, “Braxton Hicks contractions are sporadic contractions and relaxation of the uterine muscle. Sometimes, they are referred to as prodromal or “false labor” pains.” They can start when you are only 6 weeks pregnant, but most women do not feel them until they are well into their pregnancy; around the 2nd or 3rd trimesters.
Why do we get them?
Braxton Hicks are your body’s way of preparing for labor. They are practice contractions to prepare you for when you actually go into labor. Experiencing Braxton Hicks does not actually indicate the beginning of labor.
How to tell the difference?
If you are trying to determine whether your contractions are real labor contractions or Braxton Hicks, you can ask yourself the following questions.
1. How Often?
Braxton Hicks (BH) contractions will be irregular and will not get closer together. Real labor contractions will come in regular intervals and will get stronger and closer together.
2. How Long?
Contractions will be irregular and can last anywhere from 30 seconds up to 2 minutes. They will be unpredictable and will not occur in any particular pattern. Real labor contractions will be consistent and will last longer as time goes on. They will start at about 30 seconds and will increase to about 90 seconds per contraction.
3. How Strong?
BH contractions are usually not as painful as real contractions. If you feel like the contractions are getting weaker, they are most definitely braxton hicks as real contractions do not get less intense. Real labor contractions will always get stronger over time.
4. Where do you feel them?
Braxton Hicks are usually only felt in one part of your belly, usually the front. Real labor contractions will usually start as an ache in your back and lower part of your belly. You will also feel pressure in your pelvis. Contractions resemble a wave, and will move from the top of your uterus to the bottom.
5. Can you change positions?
If you can change your position by standing up, sitting down, or laying on your left side and this change helps the contractions it is Braxton Hicks. Real labor contractions will not improve no matter which position you are in. You will also not be able to sleep through true labor contractions whereas Braxton Hicks you may be able to take a nap or snooze through.
What can trigger Braxon-Hicks?
- Being overly active – for either mom or baby
- Extra belly touching
- When your bladder is full
- After intercourse
Tips to alleviate Braxon-Hicks contractions:
- Take a warm bath or shower. Many women say the contractions stopped in the shower. Try to keep it to 30 minutes or less to avoid getting overheated.
- Change your position. If you have been active, lay on your left side to help promote circulation. If you have been lying down for a while, try going for a walk.
- Drink water. When you are dehydrated, your muscles can start to contract. This makes no exception for your uterine muscles. If you are experiencing some contractions, drink a couple of glasses of water.
What to do with true labor contractions?
Most women can experience irregular Braxton Hicks contractions anywhere from a few hours to a few days before real labor contractions begin. Try not to worry if this is real labor, when you are truly in labor you will know. Once the contractions become more noticeable and you have gone through the checklist and determine you are experiencing real labor contractions, you can start monitoring them.
True labor contractions will always get longer, stronger, and closer together.
Labor is a gradual process, so it can take a while for you to progress far enough for the hospital to accept you. Contrary to popular belief, most women do not have a big water-breaking event to signal when labor begins. Most expecting parents make their way to the hospital or birth center when they go from early to active labor.
A good guide for heading to the hospital is to follow the 3-1-1 rule. This is when your contractions are 3 minutes apart from start to start, lasting for one minute each, and goes on for one hour.
Check out my review of one of the best free contraction apps HERE.
This time can be very exciting and exhausting. It’s hard to believe that this is it, but try to take some time to settle down and work through labor. Try to alternate between rest and activities by doing things like going for a walk and then putting your feet up. When your contractions get to the point where you can no longer talk through them, you are likely getting close. Keep monitoring and try to breathe through them. This is when tips from a birthing class come into handy. Listen to your body and trust your gut. If you feel like you should be heading to the hospital, you should go.
National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) – Braxton Hicks Contractions by Deborah A. Raines and Danielle B. Cooper: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
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