They say that you’ll know when you’re really in labor, but that definitely didn’t stop me from going to the hospital for false labor twice with my first baby. Luckily the second time I went in I was already 3 days past my due date and it was a slow night so the doctor induced me, but still. If you’ve never experienced labor before, it’s hard to tell the difference between Braxton Hicks and real contractions!
Instead of just telling you that you’ll know when it’s real (because that’s an annoying thing to say and there’s a good chance you probably won’t know), I’m going to give you some helpful tips on how to know when you’re really in labor and when it’s just Braxton Hicks!
First of all, you may be wondering what are Braxton Hicks contractions? They are basically warm-up contractions where your uterus tightens, but they don’t dilate your cervix or cause you to go into labor. They aren’t usually painful, but they can be uncomfortable, and I think that’s where some women get confused. I mean if you’ve never been in labor before, it’s hard to know for sure.
Real contractions on the other hand, do dilate your cervix and lead to labor. They might start off without much pain, but as they continue the pain increases, too.
Here are some helpful differences so you know if you are really going into labor or just experiencing Braxton Hicks:
- Braxton Hicks contractions go away if you change positions or get up and walk around. Real contractions do not.
- Braxton Hicks contractions go away if you drink some water (sometimes you can get them when you are dehydrated). Real contractions do not.
- Braxton Hicks contractions may make you uncomfortable, but usually are not painful. Real contractions will definitely make you uncomfortable and get more painful.
- Braxton Hicks contractions do not get closer together. Real contractions get closer together the closer you get to delivery.
- Braxton Hicks contractions are sporadic and do not happen at regular intervals. Real contractions are regular, come at more frequent intervals as they continue, and last longer as they continue.
- Braxton Hicks contractions do not get stronger. Real contractions do.
- Braxton Hicks contractions are felt in the front of your abdomen. Real contractions are felt in your abdomen and your back.
One thing that the nurses told me the first time I came in with false labor was that if you can talk through the contractions, they are probably not the real thing. And that didn’t really make sense to me until I actually was having real contractions. Real contractions really do hurt and you have to stop and breathe through them.
Another difference I noticed that might be helpful to note is that I actually had to feel my belly with my hands to see if it really was tight to know if I was having a Braxton Hicks contraction. With real contractions, I knew without having to feel if my belly was tight and contracting, partly because of the more intense pain and partly because I could feel it way stronger.
It was a big bummer going in twice only to have them tell me that I wasn’t in labor, but at least the second time it worked out and I was able to get induced. If you really aren’t sure, it never hurts to call your doctor or to go to the hospital just in case. It might be a disappointment when they monitor you for a while and send you home, but I’d rather have that happen then not get to the hospital in time!