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15 Signs It's "Phantom" Braxton Hicks Contractions (And 10 It's Happening For Real)

As any mother gets further and further into her pregnancy, she will be on the lookout for any signs or symptoms that are out of the ordinary. Labor usually won’t progress until around week 40, but of course, this varies greatly from woman to woman, especially taking into account the different factors of each woman and each pregnancy. Braxton Hicks, however, can start as early as the second trimester and often times leads women to wonder if the contractions are anything to worry about or not.

“Braxton Hicks contractions can begin as early as the second trimester. However, they are most commonly experienced in the third trimester. When this happens, the muscles of the uterus tighten for approximately 30 to 60 seconds, and sometimes as long as two minutes. Braxton Hicks are also called 'practice contractions' because they are a preparation for the real event and allow the opportunity to practice the breathing exercises taught in childbirth classes,” states AmericanPregnancy.org.

Some women will experience Braxton Hicks much earlier than other women, and it can be nerve-wracking to try and differentiate between Braxton Hicks and regular contractions. This is especially true for first-time moms. Luckily, there are ways to distinguish them from each other. Below is a list that includes 15 signs that it’s Braxton Hicks contractions and ten signs that it’s happening for real. From timing to the intensity and even eating and drinking patterns, keep reading for tips on how to tell the difference between Braxton Hicks and contractions.

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25 Braxton Hicks Contractions Are Irregular In Time Patterns

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One huge way to tell if you are having Braxton Hicks contractions and not actual contractions is to try and time them out. If there is no pattern, then it’s likely these are phantom contractions.

Braxton Hicks contractions do not occur at regular time intervals, and they can occur at any time of day. However, many pregnant women report that they can feel Braxton Hicks contractions at night when the bladder is full, and during exercise” states MedicineNet.com.

24 They Are More Uncomfortable Than Painful

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Braxton Hicks are typically more annoying and uncomfortable than they are painful. “Braxton Hicks contractions may cause an uncomfortable tightening sensation, but usually are not as painful as the real thing, or true labor contractions.

Sometimes women who are experiencing Braxton-Hicks contractions believe that they represent real labor and experience a “false alarm” due to these symptoms,” explains MedicineNet.com. The false contractions will really just feel exactly as MedicineNet.com explains, like a tightening sensation. True labor will be a lot more painful than the pesky false contractions.

23 Braxton Hicks Will Not Worsen Over Time

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In addition to not being painful, Braxton Hicks contractions will always remain around the same intensity. As true labor progresses, it will get more and more painful and uncomfortable, but that is not the case with Braxton Hicks.

“Real contractions also get more intense and painful over time,” shares Healthline.com. This is one big way to distinguish the difference between the two. Of course, the only true way to be sure is to call and check-in with your Doctor. You can never be too careful when it comes to taking care of you and your baby!

22 If They Go Away When You Stretch Or Change Positions, They’re Braxton Hicks

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Experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions, or what you think may possibly be Braxton Hicks? Try stretching or moving around a bit; you might even try going for a walk. The movement will often make false contractions go away, so it can be helpful in ruling out the possibility of true labor.

“ False labor contractions do not worsen over time and do not occur closer together. They may even lessen or go away when you move or change body positions,” writes MedicineNet.com.

21 Braxton Hicks Can Start As Early As The Second Trimester

“Some pregnant women experience Braxton Hicks (false labor) contractions during the second trimester. When this occurs, the contractions do not come in regular intervals, and most women do not notice them,” writes MedicineNet.com.

So if you are experiencing what feels like contractions as early as the second trimester, you can rest assured it is probably just your Braxton Hicks contractions getting started. But again, if you have any concerns, it is always best to talk them through with your medical provider.

20 If They Feel Like Cramps, It’s Probably Braxton Hicks

Another tell-tale sign of Braxton Hicks is a cramping sensation. “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,” explains WebMD.com.

No need to panic at the sign of a little cramping, you are likely just beginning to experience Braxton Hicks contractions. Not all women say the false contractions feel like cramping though, so it may feel different for you.

19 If They Come And Go Periodically, They’re Braxton Hicks

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True labor will continue once it begins, so if you have slight contractions every few days or so, it’s likely those false contractions. “Contractions that only show up from time to time are most likely Braxton-Hicks. But if they start coming regularly, time them for about an hour. If they get stronger or closer together, you are likely experiencing true labor,” suggests Healthline.com.

For me, I experienced Braxton Hicks about once a week, so it’s definitely common for them to happen sparingly, which is definitely not the case with true labor.

18 If You Drink A Big Glass Of Water And They Stop, They’re Braxton Hicks

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A lack of water could actually be causing Braxton Hicks, so if you start feeling the tell-tale tightening sensation or slight cramping, try and drink a big glass of water and see if it mellows things out.

If it does, it’s probably just false contractions you’re experiencing. “Dehydration can cause Braxton Hicks, so getting plenty of fluids can ease the symptoms. Pregnant mamas should drink at least 96 ounces of water per day. Be especially vigilant about water consumption on particularly hot days,” suggests MamaNatural.com.

17 Braxton Hicks Can Be Caused By Overexertion

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Nesting have you running around the house like a crazy person? Lots of movement can ramp up Braxton Hicks contractions. “Strenuous exercise can cause Braxton Hicks as well. You don’t need to stop your regular activity, and exercise is still good for you, but you may want to choose less intense exercise like walking or swimming versus running,” writes MamaNatural.com.

Try resting for a while and it’s likely the contractions will subside. Put on your favorite show, drink a glass of water and enjoy some ice cream while you’re at it!

16 It’s Probably Braxton Hicks If The Pain Is Central To One Location

We will get more into what real contractions feel like a bit below, but with real contractions, the pain will move.

However, with phantom Braxton Hicks contractions, the sensation will hang around only one spot. “Braxton Hicks contractions also typically subside when you get up and move, while labor contractions don’t. Plus, they’re usually felt only in the front, whereas real contractions start in the back and move to the front,” explains TheBump.com. So if your feeling is centrally located, you can rest assured it’s those false contractions.

15 It Might Be Braxton Hicks If This Is Your Second Pregnancy

Second pregnancy? You may be more prone to notice your Braxton Hicks contractions. “Since you’ve felt an effective, real contraction before, your body recognizes those Braxton Hicks more,” says Strydom.

“The first time, you might have just thought it was the baby moving,” explains TodaysParent.com. If it’s your second pregnancy, you will probably be a lot more comfortable and in tune with what’s going on in with your body. You will also be able to easily identify when you are having false contractions.

14 If You Haven’t Dilated Yet, It’s Probably Braxton Hicks

One thing you may want to consider doing is asking your Doctor to let you know if you are dilated or not. Not all doctor’s will offer to check, so if you are curious, be sure and ask. If you haven’t started dilating yet, it’s very likely just phantom contractions that you are experiencing.

The job of a true labor contraction is to dilate the cervix. Braxton Hicks contractions, you may remember, work only to tone the uterus and do not cause the cervix to dilate. Of course, you can't tell if your cervix is dilated unless you go in and have your obstetrician or midwife check you…” explains AllAboutWomenMD.com.

13 Braxton Hicks Might Stop If You Soak In The Tub

If you’re experiencing contraction like sensations but can’t identify whether they are real or false, hop in the tub and take a soak. AmericanPregnancy.org suggests taking a hot bath for 30 minutes or less to alleviate Braxton Hicks contractions.

Plus, a warm bubble bath will do you a lot of other good. Taking some time to relax and unwind while you’re pregnant is always important, but it is especially important to do so while you are carrying a whole other life inside of you.

12 If Your Stomach Feels Like It’s Tightening, It’s Likely Braxton Hicks

The best way to describe the sensation of Braxton Hicks is to call it a tightening. The feeling and location will vary greatly from woman to woman, but if you feel a tightening sensation in the general area of your stomach, then you are probably experiencing false contractions. Of course, you should try and time them just to be sure.

“When this happens, the muscles of the uterus tighten for approximately 30 to 60 seconds, and sometimes as long as two minutes. Braxton Hicks are also called “practice contractions” because they are a preparation for the real event and allow the opportunity to practice the breathing exercises taught in childbirth classes,” explains AmericanPregnancy.org.

11 If You’re Unsure, You Should Feel Comfortable Calling Your Doctor

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The most important thing to note is that if you are ever uncomfortable or unsure, it is always best practice to touch base with your Doctor. “True labor or real labor contractions usually begin after the 37th week of pregnancy, except in the case of preterm or early labor. They are a sign that labor is starting, they occur at regular time intervals, and become stronger (more intense and painful), and closer together over time.

"Labor contractions and pain are most likely to occur close to your due date when true labor starts in preparation for the birth of your baby,” summarizes MedicineNet.com.

10 If You Can Time A Pattern, It’s The Real Deal

Mild contractions generally begin 15 to 20 minutes apart and last 60 to 90 seconds. The contractions become more regular until they are less than 5 minutes apart. Active labor (the time you should come into the hospital) is usually characterized by strong contractions that last 45 to 60 seconds and occur three to four minutes apart,” explains WebMD.com. There are many helpful apps that you can use to time contractions as well, so be sure and look for one when the time comes.

9 Contractions Will Get Increasingly Worse

Unlike false contractions, real contractions will get worse in intensity as they progress. “They are a sign that labor is starting, they occur at regular time intervals, and become stronger (more intense and painful), and closer together over time. Labor contractions and pain are most likely to occur close to your due date when true labor starts in preparation for the birth of your baby,” explains MedicineNet.com. If your contractions start feeling increasingly painful, you should definitely pull out the timer.

8 f You Are 37+ Weeks Along, You Should Start Timing!

“True labor or real labor contractions usually begin after the 37th week of pregnancy, except in the case of preterm or early labor,” writes MedicineNet.com. If you are 37 weeks or more pregnant and you start to feel contraction like sensations, you definitely will want to start timing them.

And regardless of the timer, it may be best to just check in with your health care provider and explain to them how you are feeling. It’s easy to feel like you’re pestering them if you call frequently, but just remember that it’s what they are there for!

7 If You Have Other Signs Of Labor, It Might Be Real Contractions

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There are other indicators that can signal to you that you may be experiencing real labor. “You also may have other signs of labor, such as your water breaking (leaking amniotic fluid), passing of the mucus plug and/or 'bloody show,' when the mucus plug is blood-tinged," explains MedicineNet.com.

There’s a lot to be on the lookout for as you near the end of pregnancy. If you have any of the above symptoms in addition to contractions, you are probably getting close to meeting your little one!

6 If Pain Moves In A Wave Pattern, It May Be Real Contractions

As mentioned above, real contractions will move along in a wave-like pattern. Unlike Braxton Hicks that are central to one location.

The way a contraction feels is different for each woman and may feel different from one pregnancy to the next. But labor contractions usually cause discomfort or a dull ache in your back and lower abdomen, along with pressure in the pelvis. Contractions move in a wave-like motion from the top of the uterus to the bottom,” states WebMd.com.

5 It Might Be Happening If You Feel Like The Baby Has Dropped

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“When people talk about your baby dropping, they’re actually referring to a term called lightening. Lightning is one of the major signs that labor is approaching. It happens when the baby’s head literally “drops” lower into your pelvis, becoming engaged within your pubic bones.

This starts baby’s descent down and out into the world,” explains Healthline on the phenomenon of the baby ‘dropping.’ If your baby has already dropped and you are experiencing contraction-like pains, it might be go time.

4 If A Doctor Confirms A Change To Your Cervix, It Might Be Happening 

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If you have your Doctor check your cervix and things are progressing, it might just be real contractions. “Effacement and dilation are a direct result of effective uterine contractions. Progress in labor is measured by how much the cervix has opened and thinned to allow your baby to pass through the canal,” states WebMD.com.

This is, of course, the most certain way to tell if things are progressing, so you should always feel free ask your doctor to check things out for you.

3 If You Can’t Focus On Doing Anything Else, It's Probably Contractions

If your mind is consumed with contraction timing apps and you have had your doctor on speed dial for the past few days, you are likely pretty darn close to getting to meet your little one.

“When you suspect you are in true labor, call your health care provider. Also, call: If you think your water has broken. If you are bleeding (more than spotting). If the baby seems to be moving less than normal.When your contractions are very uncomfortable and have been coming every five minutes for an hour. Your health care provider will give you specific guidelines about when you should get ready to come to the hospital,” suggests WebMD.com.

2 If You Have Low Back Pain, It Might Be The Real Deal

Back labor — the pain and discomfort experienced in the lower back during labor — occurs in about 25 percent of women. Uterine contractions cause both regular and back labor contractions.

But with back labor, your baby is usually in the “sunny-side up” position. That means your baby’s little head is down by your cervix, but he’s facing your stomach instead of your back,” states WhatToExpect.com. If you are experiencing back labor pains, it’s very likely labor time, and you should probably consult with your Doctor.

1 If The Doctor Asks You To Come In, It’s Probably Time!

If you're ever wondering whether or not you should go into the hospital, you should go ahead and give your Doctor a call. They can advise you on your symptoms and let you know if they would like to see you or not. It’s always best to give them a call if you have any suspicions or concerns.

As the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry! If you talk to your Doctor and they advise you to come in and get checked out, it may just be the real deal!

References: americanpregnancy.org, medicinet.com, healthline.com, allaboutwomen.com

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