What Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Feel Like?

One of the biggest questions I had during my first pregnancy, was “what do Braxton hicks contractions feel like”? You hear about them a lot in the pregnancy world, but it’s one of those things that you second guess yourself on over and over. I have been through two natural, unmedicated childbirths, so I know what a real contraction feels like. Yet I found myself in my third pregnancy googling “braxton hicks vs real contractions”. It’s easy to forget the differences, even if you already know.

During this pregnancy I have second-guessed myself a lot because I’ve had a lot of early contractions. After going through an emergency appendectomy at almost 26 weeks and two days of intense labor contractions, I got a very real reminder of what real contractions feel like. Then I came home from the hospital and started having Braxton hicks contractions. I realized that this is a question most pregnant women have, so I wanted to make sure the answer was available here (since I write about pregnancy).

braxton hicks vs real contractions

Braxton Hicks vs Real Contractions

When you have any type of contraction you will feel your lower abdomen area tighten or squeeze, and then relax. This is your uterus contracting. Most women will start to feel Braxton hicks contractions in the second trimester. While confusing and sometimes alarming, Braxton hicks contractions are a normal part of pregnancy. They are actually just part of the way your body prepares to give birth.

Most women describe Braxton hicks contractions as feeling uncomfortable, or like period cramps, but not very painful. Unlike real contractions, Braxton hicks contractions do not get more intense and closer together as time passes. Braxton hicks contractions, also known as “false labor”, are irregular, and normally stop when you get up and move around.

True labor contractions can start off very mild, much like Braxton hicks, but they will intensify and get closer together over time. Movement will not make them subside. My water broke at 37 weeks with my first baby and I started to have period like cramps pretty far apart. I was so confused, as I imagined it would be so much more dramatic and painful, like in the movies. For hours I was in complete denial because the pain was not bad at all. I called the Birth Center I would be delivering at and they told me to wait until the contractions were at least 3-5 minutes apart and so painful that I couldn’t talk during them. Within an hour, I was totally there.

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The Main Differences Between Braxton Hicks vs Real Contractions

There are some main differences between Braxton Hicks vs Real Contractions. If you are second-guessing yourself just go through this list and you should be able to tell the difference. If you still aren’t sure and they’re not stopping, it’s always best to play it safe and call your doctor!

Braxton Hicks contractions:

  • Feel like menstrual cramps – are mostly uncomfortable but not intensely painful
  • Come at irregular intervals
  • Don’t get closer together
  • Do not last longer as as time goes on
  • Normally stop when you change positions or get up and walk around
  • Do not actually cause labor or opening of the cervix

Real labor contractions:

  • Can start out mild, but increase intensity and pain over time
  • Come at regular intervals, even if those intervals start 10 or more minutes apart
  • Get closer together as time goes on
  • Last longer and are more painful as time goes on
  • Do not stop when you change positions or move
  • Cause the cervix to open and true labor to happen

If you think you are having Braxton hicks contractions that won’t ease up, start noting the time of each contraction and how long they last. Normally Braxton hicks contractions only last around 30 seconds or less (although, they can be longer). Also, try to get up and move around and see if they stop. If they do not get stronger over time and are not at regular intervals, chances are you are having Braxton hicks contractions.

If you have been very active and feel like you are having Braxton hicks contractions, try to lay down and get some rest. Trust me, even if you fall asleep you will be awakened and know if it turns out that you are in real labor.

Best of luck, mama! You can do this!

Side-note: Speaking of contractions, do you have your hospital bag ready? If not, check out my hospital bag packing list here. I even made a printable version that you can download and print so it’s easier.