True or False? How to Tell Braxton Hicks from True Labor


When a pregnant woman starts feeling pain or discomfort in her abdomen, she may be thinking it’s the beginning of labor. It can be especially disconcerting if it’s too early in the pregnancy, or preterm labor. Either way, it’s not very fun to rush to the hospital only to be sent home because of Braxton Hicks. So how do you know if it’s just false labor pains?

What are Braxton Hicks?

Braxton Hicks are called “practice contractions” because they are contractions that can begin before true labor. Doctor John Braxton Hicks originally described these early contractions in 1872, which is where the term originated. They can be felt as early as the second trimester, but typically during the third. The other signs of active labor – such as progressive dilation of the cervix or rupture of membranes (water breaks) – are absent during false labor. If you have experienced Braxton Hicks, consider it preparation for the real thing.

False labor is irregular

If you think you have begun labor but are unsure if it’s just false labor pain, take note of four things:

Frequency. Braxton Hicks contractions are infrequent and do not follow any pattern with regularity. To accurately gauge frequency, time each contraction from the beginning of one to the beginning of the next. You’ll know it’s true labor if the contractions you are experiencing follow a rhythm and gradually grow closer together, increasing in strength as they do so.

Duration. Contractions of varying length are Braxton Hicks; true labor contractions typically last longer than 30 seconds and build up to 60 seconds in duration.

Consistency. False labor contractions decrease in strength or disappear completely when you change positions or rest. In true labor, contractions continue regardless of your activity.

Location. False labor pains are usually felt in the lower abdomen and groin, while true labor pains can be felt throughout the abdomen and lower back. Curious how true labor pains really feel? Check our article here.

What triggers false labor?

There are certain activities that can trigger false labor contractions:

1. When either baby or mom are very active

2. If mother’s belly is touched

3. Dehydration

4. After intercourse

What can I do to alleviate Braxton Hicks contractions?

Once you have determined that you are experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions, you shouldn’t worry about going to the hospital or birthing center. If they are making you uncomfortable, however, there are some things you can try to help them go away:

Change activity. Try going for a walk or lying down to rest. Sometimes just shifting your position can ease the contractions.

Relax in the water or get a massage. Taking a nice warm bath or shower or getting a calming massage can help you relax and the contractions to dissipate.

Drink lots of water. False labor contractions can sometimes be triggered by dehydration, so having plenty to drink should help.

If you are still unsure whether you are experiencing true labor pains or Braxton Hicks, it doesn’t hurt to contact your health care provider for advice. And if you decide to make the trip to the hospital or birthing center, don’t worry about feeling frustrated or embarrassed about false labor – better safe than sorry.


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