Six Key Differences Between Braxton Hicks and Labor
After the midpoint of your pregnancy, you may become aware of muscular tightening in your womb. Your baby bump will feel hard to the touch during these moments, which last around 30 seconds. These are called Braxton Hicks contractions–some women experience them as early as four months into pregnancy, while others barely notice the contractions. When you’re almost ready to give birth, you may start to feel anxious about whether you’re experiencing Braxton Hicks or real labor contractions–it’s important to know the major differences, so you know when you’re most likely to need your medical team on hand. Braxton Hicks contractions are:
You’ll generally experience just a few Braxton Hicks contractions during an hour, typically a few times a day. In contrast, labor contractions become gradually more frequent.
While labor contractions come at regular intervals, it’s harder to predict the pattern of Braxton Hicks–they lack rhythm. In addition, note that while they can be regularly, they tend to return to irregularity shorter after.
- Don’t change in intensity
Labor contractions increase in intensity over time, but Braxton Hicks stay much the same.
- Respond to activity change
Braxton Hicks are more common when you’ve been very active, and they generally stop if you change activity. So, for example, if you opt to sit down after being on your feet all day (or get up and walk around after sitting for a while), you’ll often find that the contractions ease. It’s also worth noting that even minor dehydration can cause contractions, so drinking a glass of water could ease your Braxton Hicks.
Most women report that their Braxton Hicks contractions last less than a minute. Labor contractions are noticeably longer, especially if you’ve had plenty of experience with Braxton Hicks in the past.
- Less painful
Even early labor contractions are usually more painful than Braxton Hicks, and certainly become so as labor gets fully underway. Many women hesitate to even call their Braxton Hicks contractions painful, instead describing them as “uncomfortable.” If your Braxton Hicks feel unpleasant, try taking a warm bath for half an hour.
Finally, be aware that Braxton Hicks can become more rhythmic (occurring every 10-20 minutes) during late pregnancy. This is called prelabor, and it can be very difficult to tell the difference between it and early labor–you’ll need your midwife to tell you whether your cervix has started to open, which indicates prelabor has begun! Meanwhile, if you are getting more than four contractions per hour and they’re getting more intense, call your doctor (this is especially important if you’re less than 37 weeks pregnant and are at risk of going into preterm labor).
Have you experienced Braxton Hicks during a pregnancy? What were your contractions like, and how did you know that prelabor had started? Let us know, and be sure to share any further tips you have for identifying the difference between Braxton Hicks and the first stages of labor.