It can be very difficult for women – even those that have gone through labor before – to figure out if the contractions they’re experiencing are “real” labor or not. Not only is every woman different, but every pregnancy and labor is different.
So just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, your body may start playing tricks on you.
How do you tell the difference? Though there’s no fool-proof method, here are a few tips to decipher between Braxton Hicks, prodromal labor, and actual labor.
Braxton Hicks contractions often start about halfway through your pregnancy (20-25 weeks). Some women feel them right away and fairly often while others do not; either experience is perfectly normal. The main goal of Braxton Hicks (BH) contractions is to tighten and tone your uterus in preparation for labor and delivery.
If you’re experiencing BH contractions, you’ll generally feel a tightening across the middle of your abdomen. It may even be visible from the outside, making your belly look lopsided and hard. The intensity of BH contractions is relatively low and usually they are pretty far apart.
Prodromal labor usually starts closer to the end of your pregnancy (36 weeks or later) and the contractions are more intense than BH contractions, thus the reason it’s also referred to as “false labor” and “pre-labor.”
Unlike Braxton Hicks, prodromal labor can feel nearly identical to actual labor. These contractions are much more intense than BH contractions and can be fairly consistent.
The only real differences between prodromal labor and actual labor are:
1) prodromal labor does not dilate your cervix, and
2) the contractions come and go.
Prodromal labor can be very mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting because the pain is intense, but then it stops and no baby comes. The starting and stopping can go on for days or even a few weeks.
For this reason, it is very important to remember two “R” words when you’re in the midst of it: relaxation and rest. As anxious as you undoubtedly are for your baby to arrive, you need to rest and find ways to relax – taking a bath, getting a massage, yoga, meditation – in order to prepare your body for the real thing.
If you’re not sure whether you’re experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions, prodromal labor or actual labor, you can always ask your pregnancy care physician. At All About Women, we want you to feel confident about labor, delivery and beyond.
For more information on pregnancy and postpartum care, check out the articles in our learning center such as: