Braxton Hicks or Real Contractions—Which Is It?


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Ellie Dukes

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It can be alarming when you feel what seems like a cramp at any stage of your pregnancy. Most of the time there is a good reason for the cramp or even contraction and it may not be cause for alarm. If you are truly concerned then it’s worth a phone call to the doctor, but sometimes you can figure it out on your own.

One of the areas of greatest concern is how to differentiate between Braxton Hicks and real labor contractions. Though sometimes the difference is obvious, to a first time mother or one with problems in the past it can be hard to tell. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, but there are some easy ways to tell the difference.

Consider the Intensity

You will often be able to quickly tell if it is a Braxton Hicks type of contraction based on the intensity. Many say that these types of contractions are often what help to get the body ready for the real act of labor itself. If the contraction comes on quickly, hurts for a moment, and then goes away, then more than likely it is the Braxton Hicks type.

Some describe these contractions as almost a feeling of lightning because they hit quickly, take you by surprise, and then go away just as fast. Real labor contractions don’t go away and they get more intense as time goes on. Though they may come on out of the blue they will just continue to get stronger and more intense rather than hit you once and then go away. This is a very easy and effective way of differentiating between the two types of contractions.

Consider the Frequency

You also want to consider how frequently or often you are getting the contractions. Timing them when it comes to the real thing is going to be important and there is no better time than the present to get into the habit of doing so. This act might also help to ease your mind and assure you that you are not in labor!

Real labor contractions not only continue to grow in intensity but get closer together as well. You will experience them in a wider interval and then all of a sudden they seem to start coming on every five minutes, every three minutes, and so on.

The big difference here is that Braxton Hicks contractions come and go and you may not have another one for quite some time. They are the body’s way of getting ready but on a very temporary and limited basis. So if the contraction comes and goes and doesn’t show up again for hours, days, or weeks then you have nothing to worry about and it’s just Braxton Hicks contractions knocking at your door.

Consider the Stage of Your Pregnancy and What Else is Going On

Many women are surprised when they get that first Braxton Hicks contraction. They feel the cramp and then recognize it as a contraction, but with further research realize that they just had their first Braxton Hicks. You can start getting them as early as five months pregnant.

If you are closer to your due date, or baby is preparing for delivery, then the real contractions may be more likely to come. There is no telling when labor will come on, but if it is in the later days of pregnancy, just be ready for it and be ready to time it and pay attention to the intensity.

If the contractions simply stop when you sit down or rest, then you are likely experiencing more frequent Braxton Hicks contractions. If you have been up moving around, on your feet a lot, or even under a great deal of stress then the body may respond with these contractions. If they go away with rest then they are more likely Braxton Hicks. Real labor contractions don’t go away; the baby is ready to come and there is no stopping labor.

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