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  • Writer's pictureElysia Douglas

How Will I Know? Braxton Hicks vs. True Labor

Oh no. What was that? Ooooh! That’s uncomfortable. Wait. Is it time?

If you have made it to your second trimester of pregnancy, you may have begun to feel Braxton Hicks contractions by now.

What are Braxton Hicks?

They are mild contractions or a tightening of the uterus that many pregnant people feel as early as the second trimester and into the third trimester. It’s kind of like your body getting some practice in before the big day arrives. Not everyone has them so if you haven’t, it’s totally OK.

Also, if you have not felt them before getting close to your estimated due date, you might think you’re beginning labor. Which leads us right into our discussion.

How do you tell the difference between Braxton Hicks and true labor?

First of all, Braxton Hicks are usually not painful. Some people say they feel like mild to moderate menstrual cramps. Second, Braxton Hicks are usually irregular, meaning they may or may not develop a pattern. You won't really be able to time them. Next, they are typically only felt in the front of the abdomen or just in one place. By drinking water, taking a shower/bath, or sometimes, just by changing positions Braxton Hicks contractions will go away as quickly as they started.

What causes Braxton Hicks?

Braxton Hicks contractions may begin because of dehydration, illness that may cause vomiting or diarrhea, lots of fetal activity, or lots of activity from the pregnant person including sex. That’s not to say you can’t have sex, just know that you may release oxytocin during sexual activity, and it may cause your uterus to contract. (We’ll talk about oxytocin and contractions on another day.)

True labor contractions do not stop no matter what you do. Over time, as your labor begins, the contractions will last longer, get closer together, and increase in intensity. You may feel them start as a tightening in you back and then give you a big, tight hug that wraps around your abdomen and holds your for a while. As they begin to go away, the hug gets looser. You will go from wondering if it was a contraction, to being sure it was a contraction, to trying to ignore the contraction. And then, as labor progresses, you'll likely need to give them your complete and undivided attention. Drinking water, taking a shower, and changing positions may help you get more comfortable, but none of those things will stop true contractions from occurring.

When you notice that your contractions are not going away with any changes in activity, it’s time to whip out your handy dandy smart phone that you’ve downloaded your contraction timer app to and start timing.

So, let’s recap:

Braxton Hicks

● No regular pattern

● Usually causes no discomfort

● Vary in frequency/length

● Do not get closer, stronger, or longer

● May stop with a change in activity

● Usually felt only in the front or just one part of the abdomen

True Labor

● Regular, Predictable pattern

● Increasingly uncomfortable

● Increases in frequency/length

● Gets longer, stronger, closer together

● Do not stop with change in activity

● Often felt in the front and back or symmetrically on both sides

Guess what? When the time comes, you still might be a little unsure. Don’t worry! It’s OK and totally normal. Just give your doula or your care provider a call and they will walk you through it to help you figure it out.

If you’re looking for a doula, North Atlanta Concierge Doula Services is available and would love to talk with you about your needs and desires for support as you navigate this the exciting time in your life. Please feel free to contact us by phone at 470-384-9330 or email at

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