Every pregnant woman probably wonders about this at least a few times during their third trimester. Are these Braxton Hicks, or am I really going into labor???
I have been there way too many times. It took 4 pregnancies before I finally realized the true difference between the two.
I remember having my first contractions when I was 25 weeks with my first baby. I had NO idea what I was feeling. I seriously thought that the baby turned over & that the hard-as-a-rock area on my belly was her pushing her back against me. I was so clueless.
Braxton Hicks are real contractions, but they aren’t strong enough to change your cervix. They are the “practice” contractions. Your uterus starts contracting very early on, but feeling them at first is difficult. I mean, you probably would never notice.
I’m almost 17 weeks and I just had one. They don’t hurt. The uterus just tightens up and then releases. Just practicing for the big day.
But why do so many women confuse the two?
It’s very easy.
As you approach your due date, Braxton Hicks become stronger and more frequent. They can take your breath away & that right there is very concerning. They can come at regular intervals, too, making you wonder what in the heck is going on.
I have an irritable uterus, which basically means that I have contractions very early on..but they become much more regular between 25 and 30 weeks. I’ll have days when I contract 30-50 times. Some are mild, some are quite strong, and come anywhere from 20 minutes apart all the way to 1 or 2 minutes apart, consistently.
They have sent me to the hospital on several, several occasions, only to be sent home because my cervix was softened, but not dilating. This can get extremely frustrating, especially if you are beyond 37 weeks because by that time we WANT THE BABY OUT.
Having 3O contractions a day is not the norm, so if you are experiencing this, you must tell your doctor. Even if they don’t hurt. The problem with having so many, so often is that they can soften your cervix.
When you’re pregnant, your cervix becomes thick to protect your uterus. When you approach the end of your pregnancy, your cervix will begin to soften (efface). It must efface some before you can begin to dilate. Braxton Hicks contractions can help get this started. The problem occurs if the cervix thins out too much too soon because of these practice contractions.
When I was on my 3rd pregnancy, I was experiencing frequent Braxton Hicks. Some were strong, some weren’t, but I just felt like I was having too many. When I was 28 weeks, I told my doctor. He was concerned and wanted to check my cervix via ultrasound. I was 75% effaced….I should have been 0% effaced.
I was put on bed rest immediately and had to take medication. I also had to come in every week to have my cervix checked. It was very scary time. The medication didn’t help, nor did bed rest.
I ended up going to the emergency room at 30 weeks because the contractions would not slow down. That situation put me into the hospital for 3 days. It deserves its own post, which I will be writing very soon.
Ok. So, real contractions vs Braxton Hicks.
Before I get into this, please understand that this has been my experience. Every pregnancy is different and your situation may not mirror mine. If you are ever concerned, call your doctor.
Real contractions usually, but not always, hurt. They usually start out mild and get stronger and stronger & closer together.
Braxton Hicks usually don’t hurt. They are kind of all over the place. I have so many pieces of paper in my pregnancy journals that show the timing of my Braxton Hicks. They may be 6 minutes apart, then 3 minutes apart, then back to 6, then down to 2, then back to 7…etc. There’s little to no consistency.
Real contractions feel just like menstrual cramps. You will feel it start, peak, then go back down. They may start out 20 minutes apart or more, but they will get closer & closer together, not further & further apart. So, you could have your first real contraction at 1:00pm, the next at 1:20pm, then one at 1:40pm…all 20 minutes apart. But the next one may be at 1:55pm, just 15 minutes later. They will also gradually get stronger….they will eventually be much, much, much stronger than any menstrual cramp you’ve ever had. If you start experiencing anything like this, just go straight to the emergency room. Or immediately call your midwife if you’re having a home birth…etc.
I waited WAY too long the first time I ever went into labor. I was 38 weeks, so I wasn’t absolutely sure that this was it. Very soon, I realized that it was the real thing because my contractions made a drastic turn as far as pain was concerned. I made it to the hospital & had the baby 30 minutes after walking in the emergency room doors—without an epidural, which was not fun. If you want an epidural, I wouldn’t mess around with that stuff. Get to the hospital. The worse thing they’ll do is send you home if it’s not the real thing.
If you are having a lot of Braxton Hicks, there are a few things you can do to try to calm them down.
- Drink a lot of water. Even if you are the slightest bit dehydrated, your uterus can become irritated. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t.
- Take Motrin or Alieve and lay down on. Swap sides as you become uncomfortable, but being on your left side is best.
- Take a warm bath. The heat helps calm contractions.
So, Braxton Hicks & labor contractions are different, but you can have a Braxton Hicks one minute and a true labor contraction the next. There should be something that sets them apart, but it may be more subtle than I have described. Just pay close attention and be ready to have that baby!