Braxton Hicks Contractions vs. Labor Contractions

Women meeting with obstetrician-gynecologist

Not all contractions during labor mean you’re about to give birth. Before true labor actually starts, you may experience false labor pains know as Braxton Hicks contractions. Braxton Hicks are one of the ways your body prepares for the actual day you give birth. But they do not mean labor is about to begin. The most important thing to remember about Braxton Hicks contractions is that they are perfectly normal.

Braxton Hicks contractions vs true labor contractions

Braxton Hicks contractions are most common during the third trimester, and at times early during the second trimester1. For most women, true labor contractions will start around the 40th week of the pregnancy2.

Unlike labor contraction, Braxton Hicks contractions2:

·      Are usually not painful

·      Don’t happen at regular intervals, they come and go

·      Don’t get closer together

·      May stop with a change in activity or position

·      Do not last longer as they go on

·      Are weak, do not feel stronger over time

·      Typically last less than 30 seconds

Labor Contractions3:

·      Have regular intervals lasting about 30-70 seconds

·      As time goes on, they get closer together

·      Continue despite if you move or change positions

·      Get stronger as time goes on

What do contractions feel like?

Most women have described Braxton Hicks contractions as a tightening in the front of the abdomen that comes and goes. They are often described as feeling like menstrual cramps. It can be an uncomfortable feeling, but it will not last for too long3.

True labor contractions are more intense contractions. The pain usually starts in the lower back and moves to the front of your abdomen, or vice versa1.

What you should do when you have contractions:

Contractions that only come from time to time will usually be Braxton Hicks2. Whenever you suffer from Braxton Hicks contractions, there is not much you can do. If you are feeling uncomfortable, some things that can help are1:

·      Taking a walk – The contractions usually stop when you change position or get up and move.

·      Rest- If you have been active for a long period of time lay down and rest.

·      Relax – Take a warm bath or get a massage.

If contractions start happening more regularly, you should begin to time them for about an hour to see if they get stronger or closer together2. If they are about five to six minutes apart, you could be experiencing true labor contractions, which means you should quickly head over to the hospital2. There are several apps for your smartphone that provide you with a timer to help track your contractions2.

If you’re unsure of whether you are entering labor or not, call your doctor or simply go to your delivery hospital. They can help answer and address your questions and concerns.

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1- Braxton Hicks or True Labor Contractions? (n.d.). Retrieved February 15, 2017, from

2- Watson, S. (n.d.). Braxton-Hicks Contractions vs. Real Contractions. Retrieved February 15, 2017, from

3- Milbrand, L. (2015, June 11). How to Tell Braxton Hicks Contractions from Labor Contractions. Retrieved February 15, 2017, from

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