Braxton Hicks – Labor or False Alarm?

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When you are expecting a baby it is really common to experience lots of unfamiliar aches, pains and twinges as your baby grows and develops in the womb. From your muscles stretching as your bump grows, to your baby pressing heavily on your bladder, or even the odd affectionate kick in the ribs, women very quickly learn to adapt to these unfamiliar sensations during pregnancy.

The closer it gets to the baby’s due date however, the more Moms to be can worry that these pains are actually the signs of impending labor. We are always told that you will just ‘know’ when it’s the real thing; but is that true? How can you tell the difference between real contractions of labor and simply a false alarm?

What are Braxton hicks?

Braxton Hicks are uterus contractions, and a sign of your body practicing or preparing for the upcoming labor. Braxton hicks can feel very uncomfortable and even be visible; with your bump appearing to physically tighten and squeeze. They are most common during pregnancy in the 3rd trimester, and given the fact this is close to the due date, many Moms to be can confuse them with the real deal, believing that they have gone into early labor only to be told it’s a false alarm.

There are however some distinct differences between real contractions and Braxton Hicks which you can look out for. Knowing the differences may help you manage the symptoms and ease your anxiety levels as you approach your due date.

Braxton Hicks contractions tend to be much shorter (less than 30 seconds) and are generally more sporadic and irregular than labor contractions. They can also stop just as quickly as they start; stopping or easing if you change position; have a cold drink or go to the bathroom.

On the flip side, labor contractions tend to last much longer (From 30 seconds to 1 minute +) will become more common, regular and closer together as they progress and generally get stronger and more severe as the time passes. If you are unsure whether the pains you are experiencing are due to labor, you may wish to ask your partner to time the gaps between your contractions using a contractions app (or even a pen and paper!) and look out for any pattern.

Unlike Braxton hicks, labour pains will not generally be eased by moving position although walking and staying active can help.

Unlike Braxton Hicks, genuine contractions may also be accompanied with other symptoms of labor such as a bloody show or loss of your mucas plug. If this happens, or your water breaks, then it’s fair to say this is a pretty revealing sign that your baby is on its way!

What if I’m still not sure?

If you’re not sure whether the pains you are experiencing are Braxton hicks or labor, monitor them over a short period of time. Try changing positions, going for a walk or having a cold drink and see if this reduces the symptoms.

If the pains are becoming more frequent, stronger, longer in duration or there is beginning to be a pattern to your contractions; seek medical advice. Whilst it may still be a false alarm (these babies like to keep us on our toes!) it is always better to check, especially if you are less than 37 weeks pregnant. Wishing you all the best for when the big day arrives!

Lucy Cotterill
Lucy is a UK-based parenting and lifestyle blogger who has also featured in the Huffington Post. A Mom of two daughters, Lucy is passionate about sharing the true reality of parenthood and helping others through their first experiences. In her free time she loves to write, go on day trips with her family and photography.

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