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Braxton Hicks or True Labor Contractions?

Before "true" labor begins, you may have "false" labor pains. These are also known as Braxton Hicks contractions. They are your body's way of getting ready for the real thing -- the day you give birth -- but they are not a sign that labor has begun or is getting ready to begin.

What Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Feel Like?

Some women describe Braxton Hicks contractions as tightening in the abdomen that comes and goes. Many women say these “false” contractions feel like mild menstrual cramps. Braxton Hicks contractions may be uncomfortable, but they do not cause labor or open the cervix.

Unlike true labor, Braxton Hicks contractions:

  • Are usually not painful
  • Don’t happen at regular intervals
  • Don’t get closer together
  • Don’t increase when you walk
  • Do not last longer as they go on
  • Do not feel stronger over time

You may feel Braxton Hicks contractions during the third trimester or as early as your second trimester. They are perfectly normal and nothing to worry about.

If you’re having Braxton Hicks contractions, you really don't need to do anything.  If they’re making you uncomfortable:

  • Take a walk. False labor contractions often stop when you change position or get up and move.
  • Get some sleep or rest.
  • Relax by taking a warm bath or by listening to music.
  • Get a massage.

Abdominal Pain That’s Not Labor

Sharp, shooting pains on the sides of your abdomen are called round ligament pain. The pain is from the ligaments that support your uterus and attach to your pelvis -- they’re being stretched as your uterus grows. The pain may also travel into your groin.

Round ligament pain tends to occur with movement, like standing up, rolling over, coughing, sneezing, or even urinating. It typically only lasts a few seconds or minutes.

To ease the discomfort in your sides:

  • Try changing your position or activity. Lying on your opposite side may help.
  • Support your abdomen when you stand or roll over. Move more slowly.
  • Try to rest. A hot bath or heating pad may help.

What Do True Labor Contractions Feel Like?

True labor feels different for every woman. It may even feel different from one pregnancy to the next.

Labor contractions cause pain and pressure in your pelvis and discomfort or a dull ache in your back or lower abdomen. Some women may also feel pain in their sides and thighs. The pain comes and goes at regular intervals and increases in frequency and intensity with time.

Some women describe contractions as strong menstrual cramps, while others describe them as strong waves that feel like diarrhea cramps.

If you have signs of true labor, call your doctor or midwife immediately. If you're not sure, call your health care provider anyway. If you have any of the following symptoms, you may be in true labor.

  • Contractions every 10 minutes or more than five contractions in an hour
  • Regular tightening or pain in your back or lower abdomen
  • Increasing pressure in your pelvis or vagina
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Fluid leaking from your vagina
  • Flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

WebMD Medical Reference

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