Braxtons-Hicks Versus Real Contractions Explained

Pregnancy: The Last Few Weeks

In the last few weeks of your pregnancy, contractions can turn into an alarm: they signal that you’re going through labor. However, some contractions aren’t the real thing.


Contractions like these are identified as Braxton-Hicks contractions. You can look at it as a practice run for your body to get ready for the big show which is giving birth to your baby. But, remember, these contractions don’t mean that you’re about to welcome your baby to the world.

Unsure whether the contractions you’re having are Braxton-Hicks or real? Here’s how to differentiate them.


Braxton-Hicks Contractions

Named after the doctor who coined the term, Braxton-Hicks contractions are contractions that may feel like you’re going through real labor contractions when, in fact, you’re not.


They won’t lead to actual delivery, but Braxton-Hicks contractions can make the cervix narrow similarly to true labor contractions.

Braxton-Hicks contractions usually begin in the 28th week of pregnancy. You will feel them occasionally, especially in the afternoon or at night after a lot of activity. There is no noticeable pattern, but Braxton-Hicks contractions may frequently happen the nearer you are to your due date.

Being hit with a Braxton-Hicks contraction will cause your abdomen to tighten. Most of the time it is not painful, but it can hurt.

Signs of experiencing Braxton-Hicks contractions are the following: contractions that sometimes come and go; it doesn’t get painful or closer together; contractions that disappear when you pee or switch positions.


True Labor Contractions

True labor contractions occur when a hormone in your body called oxytocin is released. This hormone makes your uterus contract and signals that you are going through labor. For most mothers, true labor contractions begin around 40 weeks into the pregnancy. However, true contractions that occur before 37 weeks can mean that you’re going through preterm labor.


When you’re experiencing true labor contractions, your cervix will thin out, and the upper part of your uterus will tighten for baby to go down the birth canal. This way, you can prepare for the delivery.

A real contraction is something akin to a wave. When you start feeling it, the pain that you’ll feel starts low, then moves up until it reaches the ultimate peak, and retreats. Your abdomen will feel hard when you touch it.

One clue to figure out that you’re in real labor is when the timing of your contractions are spaced very evenly, and it gets shorter as it goes on. For example, your contractions come back every five minutes then it decreases to three, to two, and so on. Over time, your contractions will get very painful.

There are many other signs when you’re going into labor, such as:

  • A clump of bloody or pink-like mucus when you make a trip to the toilet.
  • The feeling that your baby has “dropped” in your stomach or belly.
  • Vaginal leakage. It means that your water has broken.


So Now, How Can I Distinguish Them?

Here’s a simple overview of how to tell the difference between Braxton-Hicks contractions and real labor contractions:

  • When they occur:
    • Braxton-Hicks contractions may occur around the 13th to 27th week, but they usually start during the third trimester.
    • Real labor contractions should begin after 37 weeks into your pregnancy (otherwise, it may mean that you’re going through premature labor).
  • How frequently they occur:
    • Braxton-Hicks contractions happen randomly and with no apparent pattern.
    • Real labor contractions come at regular periods which shorten as more time goes on.
  • How long they last:
    • Braxton-Hicks contractions last for as short as 30 seconds or go on for 2 minutes.
    • Real labor contractions range at 30 to 70 seconds.
  • How they feel:
    • Braxton-Hicks contractions a tightening in the abdomen, but they are usually not painful.
    • Real labor contractions get stronger and intense over time, and they come in waves, from the back than the front.


What Should I Do When I’m Experiencing Contractions?

Contractions that occur sometimes or come and go are most likely false contractions. However, if your contractions are coming regularly, try timing yourself (1 hour). If they get more intense as time passes, you are probably going through real labor.

If your contractions are around five or six minutes apart, it is high time to go to the hospital with your baby bag ready.

If you’re unsure of whether or not you’re actually in labor, consult your doctor or pay a visit to the hospital. It’s way better to seek for professional help even if it might be a false alarm.

Another thing to keep in mind is to make sure that you go to the hospital when your contractions are excruciating, or your water has broken before the 37th week of your pregnancy.


When Should I Call My Healthcare Provider?


Don’t ponder over whether or not you’re bothering your doctor, even if you think it might be a false alarm. Call your doctor or midwife and consult them on what’s normal or not. They should be willing and available at any time to answer your questions and to talk about your worries and concerns about your contraction. Never hesitate to call.

Immediately call your doctor or midwife, no matter what time, if you’re experiencing any of the following:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Ongoing leaking of fluid or when your water breaks (maybe gushing or a trickling)
  • Intense contractions every 5 to 6 minutes for about an hour
  • Contractions that you cannot handle.
  • You notice a change in your baby’s movement, or if you feel that there are less than ten movements every 2 hours.
  • Any signs of actual labor contractions before your 37th week of pregnancy.


What Mothers Say About Braxton-Hicks Contractions


“I didn’t feel or notice them until I brushed over my belly and realized it was hard.”

“I thought they were supposed to be painless?”

“I think I hardly noticed them in my first pregnancy. But the second time around, I REALLY noticed them more. Maybe it was because I knew what to look out for or I was already having a second baby.”

“Didn’t feel any false contractions at all. I might’ve had them, but I didn’t feel like I did. But I knew something was going on when I went from four to five centimeters when I visited my doctor.”

DISCLAIMER (IMPORTANT): This information (including all text, images, audio, or other formats on is not intended to be a substitute for informed professional advice, diagnosis, endorsement or treatment. You should not take any action or avoid taking action without consulting a qualified professional. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions about medical conditions. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here a

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