Before "true" labor begins, you might have "false" labor pains, also known as Braxton Hicks contractions. These irregular uterine contractions are perfectly normal and might start to occur from your fourth month of pregnancy. They are your body’s way of getting ready for the "real thing."
What do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like?
Braxton Hicks contractions can be described as tightening in the abdomen that comes and goes. These contractions do not get closer together, do not increase in how long they last or how often they occur, and do not feel stronger over time. They often come with a change of position and stop with rest.
What do true labor contractions feel like?
The way a contraction feels is different for each woman and might feel different from one pregnancy to the next. Labor contractions cause discomfort or a dull ache in your back and lower abdomen, along with pressure in the pelvis. Some women might also feel pain in their sides and thighs. Some women describe contractions as strong menstrual cramps, while others describe them as strong waves that feel like diarrhea cramps.
So how do you know when your contractions are the "real thing?"
Timing of contractions:
- False labor: contractions are often irregular and do not get closer together.
- True labor: contractions come at regular intervals and get closer together as time goes on. (Contractions last about 30 to 70 seconds.).
Change with movement:
- False labor: contractions might stop when you walk or rest, or might even stop when you change position.
- True labor: contractions continue, despite moving or changing positions.
I sometimes have pain on the side of my stomach
Sharp, shooting pains on either side of your abdomen that travel into the groin might result from stretching ligaments that support your growing uterus.
To ease your discomforts of false labor pains:
- Try changing your position or activity.
- Make sure you are drinking enough fluids (at least 10 to 12 glasses of water, juice, or milk per day).
- Try to rest and relax.
I am afraid to keep bothering my healthcare provider with "false alarms." When should I call my healthcare provider?
Your healthcare provider is available any time to answer your questions and ease your concerns about whether or not your contractions are signs of true or false labor. Don’t be afraid to call your healthcare provider if you are not sure what it is you are feeling. He or she might ask you some questions to help determine if you are truly in labor. If there’s any question at all, it’s better to be evaluated by your healthcare provider.
It is essential to call your healthcare provider at any time if you have:
- Bright red vaginal bleeding
- Continuous leaking of fluid or wetness, or if your water breaks (can be felt as a "gushing" of fluid)
- Strong contractions every five minutes for one hour
- Contractions that you are unable to "walk through"
- A noticeable change in your baby’s movement, or if you feel fewer than six to 10 movements in one hour