You’re waiting to feel those first contractions – a sign that you’re ready to deliver! Yet, before you have your first REAL contractions, you may have false contractions. These contractions are also called Braxton Hicks contractions to distinguish them from the real kind that lead to labor. Think of these contractions as “practice” for the real thing and a sign that “the big event” is drawing near. It’s your uterus contracting and getting you prepped for the delivery that will eventually follow.
Unlike “real” contractions, false contractions do not cause your cervix to open and don’t lead to delivery. How can you distinguish between the two? Braxton Hicks contractions have certain characteristics that real contractions do not. Here are some of the distinguishing features of false contractions:
- They occur irregularly.
- They don’t increase in duration like real contractions do.
- They don’t become stronger over time and are usually not painful.
- They don’t become closer together in time. (For example, 5 minutes apart, 3 minutes, and then 1 minute)
- They often get better when you exercise, take a walk, or lie on your left side.
- You usually feel them in the lower abdomen rather than the upper abdomen and back.
- You’re not having bloody show and you haven’t broken your water.
False contractions are not typically a one-time thing. These contractions may happen off and on for days or even weeks before you finally deliver. When do they show up? You might experience these contractions as early as your first trimester, although they’re usually not noticeable at this early stage. However, when they happen late in your third trimester, they may be hard to distinguish from real contractions. The distinguishing feature is false contractions don’t increase duration, gradually occur further apart, or become stronger. If the contractions are real, you may pass a bloody clump called “blood show.” Another sign that the contractions are real is if you pass fluid from your vagina, meaning your water (amniotic sac) has broken.
It’s a good idea to get out your watch and time your contractions. If they’re becoming longer, more regular, and closer in time, they could be the real thing! Don’t take chances. It’s better to call your doctor and be wrong than to brush them off as false. If you’re having more than four contractions an hour, let your doctor know. When you’re having contractions this frequently, it could be the beginnings of labor. If you’re less than 37 weeks, it could be a sign of pre-term labor and you need immediate evaluation.
Dealing with False Contractions
One way to lower your risk of experiencing false contractions is to drink plenty of water so that you’re hydrated. If you do experience Braxton Hicks contractions, change position by lying on your left side or get up and take a walk. Oftentimes a simple position change will ease the contractions. You might find that taking a warm bath or meditating will calm the contractions.
The Bottom Line
False contractions are common and are usually most noticeable from the mid-second trimester on. Don’t let them alarm you, but educate yourself so that you can distinguish true contractions from false ones.
American Pregnancy Association. “What Are False Contractions?”
American Pregnancy Association. “Braxton Hicks Contractions”