Braxton Hicks vs. Real Contractions: How to Know the Difference

When you’re pregnant, there are a lot of questions you want answered. You want to know about the developmental stages of your baby. You want to know what to do to have a successful pregnancy and give birth to a healthy child. You want to know what vitamins to take, what to eat, and what kind of exercise is okay.

You want to know everything you need to buy to be ready to take your baby home. Above all, you might have a lot of questions about the process of labor and delivery. For first time mothers in particular, there is a lot of anxiety about what giving birth will be like.

Some of the most common questions about labor revolve around contractions. Because contractions are often the first and best indication that you are ready to give birth, they are important. Because they are painful, they can be scary.

When it is time for the baby to be born, contractions not only serve as a warning that birth is imminent, they are also a sign of the muscle contractions that will allow you to deliver your baby.

The question is, when are contractions not contractions? When they are Braxton Hicks contractions. Then they are a fake out that might have you calling the doctor in a panic because you think you’re about to give birth to your baby. When that happens, it might be a little scary, but it is not dangerous for you or your child. You can actually put your feet up and relax!

In this article, we will look at the difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and real contractions so you will know which is which when the time comes.

What Are Braxton Hicks Contractions?

Braxton Hicks are named for Doctor John Braxton Hicks, who identified the phenomenon in 1872. They have been called “practice contractions” because they are actually an opportunity to experience what labor will be like and to practice the breathing exercises you learn in your childbirth classes.

One of the most important features of Braxton Hicks is that they are irregular and arrhythmic. Their intensity varies and they usually get weaker, not stronger. They are infrequent, and they are usually more uncomfortable than truly painful. Generally, they tend to taper off, and they can also happen in both the second and third trimesters.


You are probably wondering what causes Braxton Hicks contractions since they are not there to help you deliver your baby. Many doctors and midwives believe they help with blood flow to the placenta that nourishes your baby. They are also thought to be useful because they help tone the muscle of your uterus in preparation for real labor.

When Braxton Hicks contractions happen close to delivery, they are also thought to help along the dilation and effacement process that places your baby in the right position for delivery. Braxton Hicks contractions also seem to be trigged when you and the baby are particularly active, when your bladder is full, after you have sex, touching and placing pressure on your belly, and if you are dehydrated.

How To Alleviate Them

There are actually some simple solutions that will alleviate Braxton Hicks. Drink plenty of water, or try warm milk or herbal tea. Relax and put your feet up. Try taking a nice warm bath for 30 minutes or less. Change positions. Lay down if you have been up and active. Try taking a walk if you have been sitting or lying down.

How Do I Know When My Contractions Are Real?

You’re probably wondering how you’ll know when your contractions are the real thing. There are several important differences that distinguish real labor pains from Braxton Hicks. First is the timing and duration of your contractions.

Real labor pains are regular and have a rhythm. Real labor pains are often described as a wave that builds and crests. They also become shorter in duration and closer together the nearer you are to giving birth. They are usually more painful, and you might notice bloody mucus being discharged from your vagina. This is called the “bloody show”.

When your water breaks, you are certainly in labor. You can also feel the baby dropping lower. Real contractions also usually happen in the third trimester, when the baby is ready to be born. Premature labor in the second trimester is far less common than Braxton Hicks contractions in the second trimester.

To sum up, there are a few ways you can determine if your contractions are real or are merely Braxton Hicks. Think about how painful they are. What are their duration and frequency? How regular are they? Do they taper off or are they growing more intense? Does drinking water and putting your feet up help stop the contractions?

Are you seeing bloody show or has your water broken? How close is your due date? Answering those questions is the key to determining if you should grab your suitcase and head for the hospital. As always, call your doctor and let them know what is going on. They are your best resource for determining if you are really in labor.

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