Braxton Hicks vs Real Contractions

October 29, 2020

If you’re pregnant for the first time, you’ve noticed the long list of physical discomforts that come with it — such as morning sickness, breast tenderness, and having to urinate on a regular basis. As the pregnancy gets further along, you get swollen ankles, you feel fatigued easily, and trying to find a comfortable sleeping position feels as difficult as finding the Holy Grail. And, as the due date approaches, you pack an overnight bag for when you have to go to the hospital, install a car seat in your vehicle, and pre-register at the hospital. Yet, no matter how much you try to prepare, it may be easy to panic when you start to feel contractions. How can you learn to differentiate between a false alarm and the real thing?

What are contractions?

Contractions are the term used to refer to when the muscles in your uterus start to tighten and relax periodically. They typically start as a dull backache, then radiate towards the front and lower abdominal area. If your cervix opens before you reach 37 weeks of pregnancy, they are known as preterm contractions — and they could result in premature birth. However, most women start experiencing contractions closer to the 40 weeks mark. That said, there are Braxton Hicks contractions — also known as false labor — and then there are labor contractions, which are a clear indication that it’s time to go to the hospital.

What are Braxton Hicks contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions last anywhere between 15 and 30 seconds and are sporadic — although as the pregnancy progresses, they can last up to two minutes. They are also infrequent, ease up over time, and eventually, disappear. They may also cause a first-time expectant mom to become alarmed, since they can first be felt halfway through the pregnancy. They occur as your uterus gets ready for childbirth. However, they are not a cause for concern, since they are not strong enough to cause your baby to be born early.

Braxton Hicks contractions are not painful, but they do cause discomfort — especially towards the later stages of pregnancy, when they become stronger. Something that may trigger them more often is dehydration and certain types of exercise, including having sex. However, they can subside by changing positions.

Braxton Hicks Contractions & Dehydration

Dehydration and overactivity is one of the main culprits of Braxton Hicks contractions. If you’re feeling sporadic contractions then put your feet up, rest and drink lots of water. If they become more intense and regular, you should go in and see your doctor.

If your water broke or you have abnormal vaginal discharge then they may be real labor contractions. Consult your doctor.

Braxton Hicks contractions are typically experienced in the beginning of the first trimester. If you are experiencing contractions close to your due date and are worried about them, consult your doctor.

For more information on what to expect during your third trimester, check out our blog: What To Expect During Your Third Trimester

How To Know If You’re in Labor

As opposed to Braxton Hicks contractions, real labor contractions are intense, painful, and follow a specific rhythm. As time goes by, they last longer and become more painful. No matter what you do, they don’t ease or go away. Before the pain gets too intense, you can time the contractions to see if they come and go at regular intervals that more or less last about the same length of time. In addition, you’ll notice other changes that your body is ready to deliver your baby. These include:

  • Your joints feeling looser. This is caused by hormonal releases to make your pelvis open up as your body gets ready for labor.
  • Feeling pressure under your ribcage at the same time that your pelvis feels heavier — this means the baby has “dropped”.
  • A thick vaginal discharge with a little bit of blood and/or brown spots — which is an indication that the mucus that has been sealing your cervix has been released.
  • Your water breaks — this could range from a small trickle to large amounts of liquid gushing out from your vagina.

Get to your doctor as soon as possible once your water breaks, since once it occurs, there’s less amniotic fluid around your baby and you’ll want to give birth within the next 24 hours.

Call OB-GYN Women’s Centre of Lakewood Ranch for More Information

At OB-GYN Women’s Centre of Lakewood Ranch, we provide a variety of services for every woman. No matter your age or medical history, we’ll help you feel comfortable and answer all of your reproductive health-related questions.

Call us today to schedule an appointment.