Learn the difference between these and the real deal

Quick notes

  • False alarms are quite common and it can be hard for even the most seasoned mother to tell the difference between labor and Braxton Hicks contractions.

  • One of the big differentiators between Braxton Hicks contractions and actual labor is that Braxton Hicks contractions will be far less painful.

  • Braxton Hicks contractions can usually be stopped by changing positions or drinking water.

It can be hard to tell the difference between real labor contractions and Braxton Hicks contractions. False alarms are quite common and it can be hard for even the most seasoned mother to tell the difference between the pains of labor, pre-labor, and Braxton Hicks contractions.

Here’s a round-up of everything you need to know about Braxton Hicks contractions and the real thing.

What are Braxton Hicks contractions?

Although Braxton Hicks contractions often start in the third trimester of pregnancy, some women experience them in the second trimester. These contractions of the uterus are also known as false labor.

One of the big differentiators between Braxton Hicks contractions and actual labor is that Braxton Hicks contractions will be far less painful.

Unlike actual labor where contractions move the baby into position and open up your cervix, Braxton Hicks contractions can be brought on by dehydration or activity.

Braxton Hicks contractions can usually be stopped by changing positions or drinking water.

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What do real labor contractions feel like?

Unlike with Braxton Hicks contractions, real labor contractions will help move your baby into the birth canal and open or dilate your cervix.

To be considered in active labor, you generally will need to be having regular contractions that progressively dilate your cervix. Your cervix needs to dilate to ten centimeters.

One way to tell the difference between labor contractions and Braxton Hicks contractions is that labor contractions happen at regular intervals. You’ll be able to time them at a regular pace and they will increase in frequency and intensity as labor progresses.

Real labor contractions are often described as painful period cramps. Although Braxton Hicks and normal pregnancy cramping can also feel this way, one big difference is that a contraction will be a shorter burst of pain. Labor contractions also usually won’t last longer than a minute.

When false alarms happen

False alarms can and will happen to almost every mother. No matter how many babies you’ve had, it can be really hard to tell if you’re in labor or having Braxton Hicks contractions. As your labor progresses, however, you’ll definitely be able to tell.

To help prevent trips to the emergency room or late-night panics, try and relax and change positions. Once you’ve changed positions, practice taking some deep breaths and relaxing. Once relaxed, try counting your contractions and see if you notice any patterns. If they stop or lessen, you’re likely just experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions.

If you do go into the hospital and get sent home, don’t beat yourself up over it. Your body is gearing up for labor and it’s normal to be concerned and confused.

Home remedies to help ease Braxton Hicks pains

There are a few home remedies you can try to ease Braxton Hicks pains at home. With all of these remedies, if they don’t work and you continue to have contractions, you may be in labor after all, so a call to your doctor is a good idea.

One tip is to stay hydrated. Dehydration can cause your uterine muscles to cramp. Drink plenty of water; this should help ease the cramping.

You should also try switching positions and laying on your side. After you switch positions, your cramping and contractions may stop. A few other tricks include taking a warm bath for 30-minutes and having a bite to eat.

The 5-1-1 Rule

Most often, women follow the 5-1-1 rule when determining if it’s time to head to the hospital or birthing center. The 5-1-1 rule is when you have a contraction every five minutes, each lasting one minute and they have been coming in this pattern for one hour.

Some doctors even recommend the 4-1-1- or 3-1-1 rule. Whenever you’re in doubt, call your doctor and trust your body.

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