There are a lot of things to think about as you are preparing for a life-changing event like childbirth.  The third trimester brings a lot of new considerations and new feelings— both physically and emotionally. 

One common pain that a lot of pregnant people experience is Braxton Hicks contractions. This type of contraction is nothing to be alarmed about, but if you’re feeling it before the 36-week mark, it may be your body’s way of telling you you’re doing too much.

While Braxton Hicks contractions may seem scary at first, the key is knowing how to tell the difference between them and regular labor contractions. So, we asked labor and delivery nurse Ashley Sousa, the expert that leads our childbirth classes, to fill us in on this common sensation, including what they are, what they feel like, and how to tell the difference between Braxton Hicks and the real deal contractions of labor.  As always, if you are concerned, or have questions, talk to your healthcare provider. 

What are Braxton Hicks contractions? 
Braxton Hicks contractions are mild, irregular contractions of your uterus during pregnancy that you might (or might not!) experience for weeks before you go into labor.  They tend to occur later in pregnancy and are more likely to occur later in the day after physical activity. 

What do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like? 
Braxton Hicks contractions feel like a tightness and squeezing in your abdomen, they can range from slightly uncomfortable to painful. Though often they last less than 30 seconds and a rarely extremely painful. 

How can you tell the difference between regular contractions of Braxton Hicks contractions?

Spotting the difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and regular contractions may not be as easy as one would think. But, monitoring these sensations over time, as well as learning what to expect when real labor does start, should help you spot the difference.  Here are some differences to look out for: 
Braxton Hicks:
    •    Are irregular, infrequent & mild
    •    Usually occur less than 8 times in an hour, for 20-30 seconds
    •    Often go away when you rest, change positions, or drink some water
Real contractions:
    •    Become more intense over time
    •    Become longer over time, going from 20–30 seconds to 60+ seconds
    •    Become more regular & increase in frequency
It’s important to remember real contractions are the ones that go from mildly uncomfortable to painful over time.

What other pain can you experience during the end of pregnancy?
Some other aches and pains that can show up towards the end of pregnancy are: 
    •    Round ligament pain 
    •    Loose joint 
    •    Sciatica
    •    Swelling 
    •    Back pain 
    •    Indigestion and Heartburn

When to call your doctor? 
If you’re unable to discern if what you’re feeling is Braxton Hicks or regular contractions and you think you might be in labor, call your healthcare provider. It’s also important to call with any other questions or concerns you may have. 

Overall, Braxton Hicks contractions are something to keep on your radar during pregnancy but not something to stress over.

If you’re wondering how to ease the discomfort of Braxton Hicks, what else to expect during your pregnancy, how to prepare for labor and delivery, and how to prepare for the postpartum period, and more check out class, Childbirth: What to Expect, Pain Management, and More, to learn everything you need to know from labor to postpartum.