Signs of Contractions: How Do You Know When You’re Ready to Deliver?

signs of contractions

Contractions – they’re uncomfortable, in fact, downright painful. On the other hand, if they are true contractions, they’re a sign that your baby is on the way – and that’s a good thing!  Contractions come in two varieties – true contractions and false contractions. It’s important to differentiate between the two so you’re aware of what you’re experiencing and when it’s time to call the doctor. What are signs of contractions and how do true ones differ from false ones?


Signs of Contractions: False versus True


False contractions are sometimes referred to as Braxton Hicks contractions. Unlike true contractions that you feel as labor approaches, Braxton Hicks, or false, contractions have certain characteristics that help you identify them.


Real contractions are those you feel right before giving birth. In contrast, you can experience Braxton Hicks contractions as early as your second trimester. True contractions that usher in labor are often strong, painful, and are characterized by tightening of your entire abdomen and your back. In fact, they often start in the back and move to the abdomen. In contrast, Braxton Hicks contractions are usually confined to your abdomen and don’t involve the back.


These aren’t the only ways true and false contractions differ. Real contractions that happen with labor gradually become closer and closer together. They also increase in duration, meaning they last longer and longer. False contractions do neither of these things. Braxton Hicks contractions usually happen at irregular time intervals and don’t become lengthier in duration. Another distinguishing feature is false contractions are often relieved by changing position or standing up and walking around. Real contractions are not.


When Should You Head to the Hospital?


Knowing the characteristics of your contractions, whether they’re occurring closer together and becoming longer in length, gives you a better idea of what you’re dealing with – true or false contractions. But you probably have another question: When should you call the doctor or go to the hospital?


Most doctors will encourage you to call when your contractions occur every five minutes and have been doing so for an hour. You should also reach for the phone if you think your water has broken, you’re spotting/bleeding, or you aren’t feeling the baby move as much as before.


If this isn’t your first pregnancy, your doctor may ask you to call when your contractions are every 10 or 15 minutes apart since delivery moves faster when you’ve delivered before. Be sure to keep track of things. Once the contractions start, begin timing them. Write down when each contraction occurs and how long it lasts. Be sure to have your doctor’s phone number on speed dial and a hospital bag packed and ready to go.  You want to be able to make a quick getaway, if necessary.


The Bottom Line


Hopefully, you now have a better idea of signs of contractions and how false, or Braxton Hicks, contractions differ from the real ones you experience with impending labor. When in doubt, always err on the side of safety and call.



WebMD. “Pregnancy and Signs of Labor”

Fit Pregnancy. “Different Types of Contractions and What They Mean”