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Braxton-Hicks Contractions vs Real Contractions

Reviewed on 3/3/2021

What are Braxton-Hicks contractions?

Braxton-Hicks contractions are usually painless contractions that begin in the first trimester of pregnancy. Unlike Braxton-Hicks, real contractions occur at regular intervals and become stronger and longer over time. The pain and discomfort of real contractions isn't relieved by a change in position.
Braxton-Hicks contractions are usually painless contractions that begin in the first trimester of pregnancy. Unlike Braxton-Hicks, real contractions occur at regular intervals and become stronger and longer over time. The pain and discomfort of real contractions isn't relieved by a change in position.

Braxton-Hicks contractions are usually painless contractions that begin in the first trimester (usually around the 6th week) of pregnancy. Women with a history of childbirth may experience these contractions in the second trimester. Braxton-Hicks contractions are also sometimes called false labor, pre-labor or practice contractions. Real contractions are referred to as the ones that signal true labor.

What do Braxton-Hicks contractions feel like?

Most women usually feel Braxton-Hicks contractions as painless contractions in the abdomen that occur at irregular intervals. Others experience them as a tightened belly when they casually happen to move their hands over their belly. It is okay and completely normal to not experience Braxton-Hicks contractions at all.

Researchers do not know the exact reason behind Braxton-Hicks contractions. However, certain factors such as dehydration; a full bladder; and illnesses such as flu, diarrhea and vomiting are known to trigger them.

Some experts believe that Braxton-Hicks contractions are the body’s way to let the uterus adjust to contractions that occur during labor. This might be like a practice or preparation for the body for the final day—the day of delivering a new life.

How to know if it is true labor or Braxton-Hicks contractions

It is much easier for experienced mothers to identify whether it is true labor or Braxton-Hicks contractions. The new moms to be must be really confused between the two and may get scared because of the lack of knowledge.

Here is a table that can help women figure out if it is a sign of true labor or a false sign (Braxton-Hicks contraction):

           Braxton-Hicks contractions                       Real contractions of true labor         
Contractions occur at an irregular pace. Contractions occur at regular intervals of 15 to 20 minutes.
Contractions don't become closer together over time. The interval between two contractions starts decreasing over time.
Contractions are usually felt only in the front of the belly. Contractions can be felt all over the belly.
Contractions do not become longer or stronger. Contractions get more intense or stronger. They increasingly become longer.
There is usually mild discomfort. Some may feel mild to moderate pain. The pain is severe enough to cause difficulty in activities such as walking.

Most often, measures such as resting, switching positions (for example, standing instead of sitting) and drinking a lot of water helps relieve the contractions.

Movements or changes in positions or activities do not help relieve the contractions.

How to cope with Braxton-Hicks contractions

If women are having discomfort or mild to moderate pain with Braxton-Hicks contractions, they should try the measures below.

  • Take deep breaths.
  • Practice relaxation techniques.
  • Go for a massage.
  • Change positions.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Take a warm bath.
  • De-stress themselves (watch a movie, call their friends or do something that relaxes them).

When to seek medical help

Braxton-Hicks contractions do not generally require a visit to the doctor. However, if they are extremely painful and are coming at regular intervals, it signals some serious issues such as preterm labor or some other problem. For any additional concerns, women should not hesitate to speak to their doctor or midwife to relieve their apprehensions and clarify their doubts.

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References
Medscape Medical Reference

March of Dimes


UT Southwestern Medical Center


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