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Contractions…Probably the last word a pregnant woman wants to hear out loud. As scary they may be, they don’t necessarily mean that you’re in labour.

In the final stage of pregnancy, your body is preparing for labour so it’s normal to experience contractions, commonly known as Braxton-Hicks. They’re kind of like a rehearsal before the real thing.

There’s a lot of confusion on how to distinguish Braxton-Hicks from the actual contractions (I remember freaking out that I’m in labour too early), so I want to share my experience that will hopefully help you to determine whether you’re about to have your baby or it’s just a false alarm.

What are Braxton Hicks contractions?

Braxton Hicks, named after a doctor who discovered them, are contractions that give you the feeling as if you really were in labour- thus, they often called ‘false’ contractions.

Although it’s possible they’ll thin your cervix same way real contractions do, Braxton-Hicks don’t end up with delivering your baby.

They usually start in 3rd trimester (but can come at any time during pregnancy) and they can appear in the afternoon or evening on and off, especially if you were active during the day. There’s no visible pattern, but Braxton-Hicks contractions may show up more frequently if you’re closer to your due date.

The way I felt those contractions, was like a tightening and stretching in my belly. They were not typically painful (looking from a perspective of labour pains) but sometimes they were very uncomfortable and it felt like strong cramping before period.

Some signs you’re having Braxton-Hicks contractions:

  • they appear and disappear fairly fast
  • they feel similar and don’t get stronger or closer together
  • they go away when you pee or you change position.

How real contractions feel like?

Real contractions happen when your body releases oxytocin hormone, which stimulates your uterus to contract (thinning the cervix and tightening your uterus muscles to push your little one down the birth canal).

For many first-time mothers, they start when they hit 40th or 41st week of their pregnancy (this finish line seem like forever!). If you happen to go into labour before 37th week, it will count as a premature labour.

Click here if you’ve reached your due date and want to induce labour naturally.

You might have heard that the actual contractions feel much like a wave- and it’s 100% true. The pain starts low (you’ll be like: it’s not so bad), rises (you’re like: ‘it hurts pretty bad but I can do it’) and finally it peaks (you’re like: what is this f*** mothe****!!). If you touch your tummy during the contraction (not that you’ll be able to even think of doing it), it’s gonna feel hard.

Signs that the contractions mean you’re in real labour :

  • when there’s a visible pattern between the timing of contractions (for instance, when they’re five minutes apart), and they come closer and closer together (three- two minutes apart, then one- hopefully you’re in the hospital by then!)
  • your contractions gradually become more intense and painful (much more painful as discussed earlier).

Other signs that you’re baby is on the way:

  • You may feel like the baby has “dropped” lower in your belly
  • Your ‘water’ has broken which essentially means you have fluid leaking from your vagina and the labour will start within the next 24 hours
  • You may see a bloody mucus coming out of your vagina (or a vaginal bleeding with bright red colour).

Click here to read some facts no one mentions about labour and delivery.

What are the main differences?

The main 4 difference between the real contractions and Braxton-Hicks are: the frequency, intensity, consistency and the place where you feel the pain.

As mentioned before, when you have real contractions you’ll experience them more often and they’ll become stronger as the labour approaches. They can last between 30-70 seconds and show up regularly. Braxton-Hicks contractions on the other hand appear randomly, are much less painful (or not painful at all) and can last from 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

For me the biggest difference between them both was the location of the pain. When the true contractions arrived, I felt them coming from the back and moving towards my belly, which is how most women would describe it. Apparently the pain can also spread to the legs (luckily mother nature spared me that extra pain!).

Braxton-Hicks contractions usually only cause discomfort in the front of your lower abdomen, similar to a feeling of tightening or squeezing.

If you really are in labour…

If the contractions appear from time to time, they’re probably just Braxton-Hicks. But if you notice a pattern and they become stronger, you should start timing them for about an hour. If time between these contractions get shorter and shorter, you are most likely in an actual labour.

When they’re about five or six minutes apart, it’s best to grab your bag and go to the hospital.

Click here to see my must-have hospital bag checklist.

 

Of course, if you’re not sure whether it’s the real thing or a false alarm, call your doctor. But it’s particularly important not to wait with heading to the hospital if you’re less than 37 weeks pregnant, the contractions are very painful, you had some bleeding or your water has broken.

That’s all from me for today.

Good luck mamas!

xoxo,

A.

8 Comments

  1. I have never had spontaneous contractions as both times I gave birth it was induced labor but with both pregnancies, I was always looking for the difference between Braxton hicks and real labor with the fear that I won’t know when it happens. The most notable difference for me was the consistency. When you are in labor for real, it’s for real!

    I like the note to be careful if you start feeling contractions too early. I felt small contractions which I almost ignored in the second trimester only to find out it was a big deal and I had to go on bed rest after staying a few days at the hospital! If your gut tells you something is up, definitely pay attention.

    1. I totally agree, it’s always best to check with your doctor if you’re uncertain about any of the pregnancy symptoms. We always have to listen to our body as each pregnancy is different.
      Thanks for the comment and take care:)

  2. That’s exactly how I’d describe my contractions with my last pregnancy- coming from my back and going towards my belly, I do not remember having any Braxton hicks before those contractions though. I guess I was lucky not to have them or maybe I didn’t even notice them. Great post!

  3. I would agree with everything you said for most women. I was the oddball and with 3 of the 4 of my children I felt very “little” pain, however, until I was about ready to push. It is always safe to go get checked if you feel uneasy with your pregnancy!!

    1. I heard having your first child is always the most difficult and the most painful. Then with your second child the labour is quicker and easier as your body already experienced the labour. I bet that was the case with you!
      Thanks for the comment:)

  4. Ibi

    Hi Agnes,
    This is a very informative post.
    You took me down memory lane.
    Lately, I have been feeling a little broody, but eeehhh no! It’s not going to happen.

    You captured the topic very well.
    You explained the difference between the false and actual labour and your absolutely nailed it!

    You also gave us the signs to watch out for when the big labour comes.

    I had a very interesting read.
    Very informative for new mums.

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