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
If you’re having Braxton Hicks contractions, you really don't need to do anything. If they’re making you uncomfortable:
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.
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.
How Do Braxton Hicks Compare to True Labor Contractions?
To figure out if the contractions you are feeling are the real thing and you're going into labor, ask yourself the following questions.
How often do the contractions happen?
- False Labor: Contractions are often irregular and don’t get closer together.
- True Labor: Contractions come at regular intervals and last about 30-70 seconds. As time goes on, they get closer together and stronger.
Do they change when you move?
- False Labor: Contractions may stop when you walk or rest, or may even stop if you change positions.
- True Labor: Contractions continue despite how you move or change positions. They also continue when you try to rest.
How strong are they?
- False Labor: Contractions are usually weak and don't get much stronger. Or they may be strong at first and then get weaker.
- True Labor: Contractions get steadily stronger and stronger.
Where do you feel the pain?
- False Labor: You usually feel it only in the front of your abdomen or pelvis.
- True Labor: Contractions are more intense and may start in your lower back and move to the front of your abdomen. Or they may start in your abdomen and move to your back.
I Hate to Bother My Health Care Provider With 'False Alarms.' When Should I Call?
Talk to your doctor early in pregnancy about what may or may not be normal and reasons you should call. (This is very important!)
If you're not sure what you're feeling may be labor, call your doctor or midwife. They should be available any time to answer questions and to discuss your concerns about whether or not your contractions are signs of true labor. Don't be afraid to call. Your doctor or midwife will ask you some questions and may want you to be evaluated.
Absolutely call your doctor or midwife right away, at any time, if you have:
- Any vaginal bleeding
- Continuous leaking of fluid, or if your water breaks (can be a gushing or a trickling of fluid)
- Strong contractions every 5 minutes for an hour
- Contractions that you are unable to "walk through"
- A noticeable change in your baby's movement, or if you feel less than 10 movements every 2 hours
- Any symptoms of true labor contractions if you are not yet 37 weeks