Braxton Hicks or genuine labour pains: How to tell the difference

What is the difference between Braxton Hicks and genuine labour contractions? Here’s how to tell the difference…

Braxton Hicks or genuine labour pains: How to tell the difference

by Kayleigh Dray |
Published on

From around 33 weeks of pregnancy, you may be aware of your uterus tightening from time to time; in fact, if you rest your hand on your bare bump when these sensations happen, you will feel first-hand how hard your uterus becomes.

These are known as Braxton Hicks contractions, and are a normal part of pregnancy.

The NHS explains: “Your uterus is "practising" for the tightenings, or contractions, of labour.”

But how can we tell the difference between Braxton Hicks and real labour pains? And when should we start to worry?

What do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like?

According to many mums who’ve experienced them, Braxton Hicks contractions feel like period pains, often starting low down in your tummy.

Over time, however, and towards the later stages of pregnancy, you may feel your entire uterus harden, top to bottom, and front to back, and it can feel pretty uncomfortable.

Each tightening usually lasts for about 30 seconds, perhaps once or twice an hour, a few times a day.

What causes Braxton Hicks contractions?

There is no definitive cause for them; however some people believe that Braxton Hicks contractions can be triggered by certain activities, such as climbing the stairs or having sex.

How can I stop Braxton Hicks contractions?

While they may be uncomfortable, the best thing to do to is relax and let the contractions pass.

However some mums have said that changing your position, having a walk around, or having a stretch, can help to stop Braxton Hicks contractions.

What are the main differences between Braxton Hicks and real labour pains?

There are differences between the two and, while Braxton Hicks can be a worry for many first-time mothers, there are ways to tell them apart...


Braxton Hicks contractions:**

  • Are usually not painful

  • Don’t happen at regular intervals

  • Don’t get closer together

  • Usually stop when you walk or rest, or may even stop if you change positions.

  • Do not increase in intensity

  • Don’t last long (usually less than a minute)

  • Do not feel stronger over time

Real labour contractions:

  • More regular

  • More frequent

  • More painful

  • Continue despite how you move or change positions. They also continue when you try to rest.

  • Noticeably, and increasingly, longer

  • Increase in frequency and intensity

Real labour also comes with some other telltale signs, including severe lower back pain, a ‘bloody show’ (mucus discharge as your cervix plug comes away), a sudden bout of diarrhoea (your body might wish to clear itself out before labour), and your waters might break.

If you have not yet reached 37 weeks and you have any of the above symptoms, you should contact your midwife team as you might be beginning premature labour.

And if you have any bleeding, with or without anything described above, contact your midwife straight away.

Always call your doctor or midwife, at any time, if you experience any of the following:

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