Once an expecting mother has hit about 30 weeks, it always feels like those last 10 weeks are NEVER going to end.
And what’s worse, it is around this time that Braxton Hicks contractions begin. So here you feel your uterus doing something, but you just aren’t sure if it is the real deal. And once you hit 37 weeks, you really want it to be the real deal.
It is SO HARD too when it is your first baby, since you don’t even have previous labor experiences to look back on! There is almost nothing worse than thinking that you are in labor and that your baby is coming any minute, only to be told that you’re not, and you are supposed to just keep waiting.
So how can you tell if it’s Braxton Hicks (false) contractions or real contractions?
Well first off, contractions are contractions and I don’t like to classify one as real and one as not real. I typically think of them as Braxton Hicks (BH) contractions or true labor (TL) contractions. Both are “contracting” your uterus, but one type will put you into labor, while the other will not.
Even if certain contractions aren’t putting you straight into labor, know that they ARE doing something! So you aren’t just suffering for nothing. BH contractions are helping to tone your uterus so that it is all ready to go on the big day. But here is a list of ways to know whether or not you are just having BH contractions, or if you are actually going into labor.
Braxton Hicks contractions don’t have a pattern.
These contractions can come every 5, 10, or even 40 minutes apart, and then don’t stay regular. One could last 2 minutes, while the next is 10 seconds. If they don’t have a regular pattern to them, then you most likely aren’t in labor. TL labor contractions tend to start to be about 20 minutes apart from start of contraction to start of contraction, and last for at least a full minute. They then gradually get closer and closer together.
Braxton Hicks contractions vary in intensity.
Sometimes a BH contraction will be very strong, and then the next one will be very mild. Going up and down like that indicates that you aren’t truly in labor. TL contractions gradually increase in intensity.
Braxton Hicks contractions can be felt in different places.
Typically, TL contractions start feeling like a period cramp, your uterus then tightens, and it extends around to your lower back. BH contractions on the other hand, can be felt like just cramps, just the tightness, or just the lower back pain. You can occasionally have them felt all over, but if they don’t meet the other requirements listed, then they are most likely not TL contractions.
Braxton Hicks contractions don’t have a “peak.”
Often, BH contractions will come on strongly and stay really intense or relatively mild the entire time they are taking place. TL contractions will typically start slowly, increase in intensity and “peak” and then decrease and fade (at least this is the case in early true labor). This rise and fall pattern indicates TL contractions.
Braxton Hicks contractions go away.
A lot of the time BH contractions are caused by overactivity or dehydration. If you aren’t sure whether or not you are experiencing TL or BH contractions, try the water and rest trick. Sit down somewhere comfortable with your legs up and then drink a few glasses of water. If they subside, then that’s your answer! If they don’t, well then, start timing them and see if they have a regular pattern to determine whether or not they are TL contractions, and drink more water! (You should be drinking at least half your weight in ounces of water every day!)
Another water test is to take a warm shower or bath. Either of them will either intensify your contractions if they are TL contractions or help them to subside if they are BH contractions.
Braxton Hicks contractions sure can be obnoxious! With my first, I had them starting at 30 weeks, but with my second I had them even at 20 weeks! I was always on high alert thinking that I was going to go into labor any second. But thankfully, due to these tips, I was able to know when I was truly in labor, and when I was just having Braxton Hicks. Hopefully these tips will help you to avoid any “false alarms” and therefore feel sure about going to your care provider when you believe that you truly are in labor.
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