Real labour contractions vs Braxton Hicks contractions - What's the difference?
Labour contractions can often be confused with Braxton Hicks. Find out how to tell the difference between the two.
You felt it just now: a strong tightening spasm in your uterus that lasted for 20 seconds or more before going away. Is this the beginning of labour? Are you going to have a premature birth? Before you panic and grab your hospital bag, take a minute to read this article to find out if you’re really feeling labour contractions.
From as early as the start of your second trimester, you may start to experience false labour contractions, which are called Braxton Hicks contractions. You may know the feeling as a tightening of your uterine muscles that comes and goes a few times a day irregularly. Braxton Hicks contractions can be more intense than cramps, and usually last longer, although they are harmless and should not cause pain.
Not all pregnant women experience Braxton Hicks contractions, but they are very common. However, they should not be mistaken with true labour contractions, which have the following characteristics:
- Contractions come at regular intervals, gradually getting closer and closer
- Each contraction lasts about half a minute to over a minute
- Contractions get stronger over time
- Contractions persist despite lying down or resting
- You can feel the contractions in other parts of your body like the back
- You have contractions and your water has broken
Scientists aren’t sure, but they think the Braxton Hicks contractions are the body’s way of preparing for labour, sort of like carrying out a trial run. Your body is actually flexing and stretching the uterus all the time even if you don’t notice it.
Remember that during labour, your uterus has to do a lot of work to push the baby out. Your cervix also needs to stretch out a great deal to let the baby through. So it’s natural that you need a bit of practice.
You do not need to do anything special if you experience Braxton Hicks contractions. However, you do tend to experience these contractions more if you have exerted yourself too much. If this is the case, try to do relaxing activities like having a bath, taking a rest on the sofa or having a snack. Usually, changing your body’s position and activity will cause the contractions to stop.
If you’re having regular labour contractions every 10 minutes or less (that means five or more times an hour), that usually signals that you have gone into true labour. These may be accompanied by other signs of true labour like back pain or pelvic pain, strong cramps or nausea.
You need to go to the hospital when the labour contractions are coming every five minutes or so and you can no longer laugh and talk through the contractions.