Not all contractions are created equal. Even if they’re all uncomfortable (to different degrees), they don’t all necessarily mean the same thing.
When you’re in the third trimester, you may be feeling more aches and pains than you did earlier during this pregnancy (your baby isn’t exactly getting any lighter, after all). But you’ll also probably start getting what’s known as Braxton-Hicks contractions, which are one of the ways your body prepares for labor. They’ll feel a bit like labor contractions, but are generally more uncomfortable than painful.
If at any point you have questions or concerns for your healthcare provider, it’s totally understandable of you to call them with questions. But knowing the difference between Braxton-Hicks and labor contractions could save you a trip to the hospital or even a phone call to your healthcare provider, so here are the best ways you can determine exactly what kind of cramping is going on.
Frequency and Rhythm
Braxton-Hicks contractions are irregular. They occur at more random intervals and don’t seem to have any set pattern to them. Real labor contractions, on the other hand, are rhythmic. They have regular intervals between them and even start to get closer and more frequent as time goes on.
Usually, ‘false’ labor contractions may stop if you change your position, move around, or wait for a little while. Whereas movement – whether it’s walking, rolling over, or waiting – doesn’t make real labor contractions go away! Drinking water is also believed to help reduce the frequency or intensity of Braxton-Hicks contractions.
Women report that Braxton-Hicks contractions are less painful than regular labor contractions. In fact, lots of women report that Braxton-Hicks contractions aren’t really that painful at all. Of course, this depends on the woman who is experiencing them, but if your contractions are quite painful and intense, they are more likely to be real labor contractions than Braxton-Hicks ones.
It is important to note that Braxton-Hicks contractions may vary in intensity throughout pregnancy, while real contractions will gradually build in frequency and intensity over time.
Braxton-Hicks also contractions tend to feel as if they are taking place in one localized part of the body, whereas true contractions generally cause a more widespread sensation, across the whole uterus.
If you are at risk of preterm labor, you may find yourself concerned and confused about the contractions you feel. Paying attention to the timing, consistency, and location of the cramps can help you determine if the contractions require a trip to the delivery room. For example, if your contractions are associated with persistently leaking fluid, bleeding, or a large gush of fluid, it’s best to go to the delivery room immediately.
If the Braxton-Hicks contractions fool you, don’t worry – many a pregnant woman has been confused by them before. These contractions are a sign that your body is being proactive about and preparing itself for your baby’s upcoming arrival. Don’t hesitate to call your healthcare professional if it’s difficult to tell the difference or if you would like clarification.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- “True vs False Labor.” Cleveland Clinic. The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Mar 2016. Web.
- “How to tell when Labor Begins.” ACOG. FAQ004 from The American College of Obsetricians and Gynecologists, May 2011. Web.