Pregnancy is such an exciting time, but it is also a confusing time. For instance, if this is your first pregnancy you may be wondering what contractions actually feel like. Or, can contractions be on one side? There are some key things to look for regarding contractions; however, no two women’s are the same.
I remember being very anxious with my first pregnancy, but then the day I went into labor, there was no confusing that the pain I was feeling were true contractions. Yet, with my second pregnancy, I went to the hospital once with Braxton Hicks contractions. It happens!
What Are Contractions?
Simply put, contractions are the tightening of the uterine muscle. According to Sutter Health, “Labor contractions are the periodic tightening and relaxing of the uterine muscle, the largest muscle in a woman's body. Something triggers the pituitary gland to release a hormone called oxytocin that stimulates the uterine tightening."
How Do True Contractions Feel?
As I mentioned earlier, the way contractions feel will vary from woman to woman and from one pregnancy to the next. However, there are some common descriptions of true labor contractions.
For instance, many women describe contractions as muscle cramps or bad gas. In general, the pain is felt all-over the body often beginning in the lower back and moving to the uterus - and not one side.
Parents tells us, “True labor contractions, which might start out as an occasional, uncomfortable tightening and hardening of your stomach, will slowly build to something more intense -- like really bad menstrual cramps or gas pains. As labor progresses, these contractions will help get your baby into position, and will become stronger, more intense, and closer together.”
What Are Braxton Hicks?
You have probably been hearing about Braxton Hicks. This is because they are very common, and it is easy to confuse Braxton Hicks with true labor contractions (I did!). American Pregnancy explains that Braxton Hicks are “practice contractions” for the real event.
Beginning in the second trimester and more common during the third trimester, Braxton Hicks are when the uterine muscles tighten for approximately 30-60 seconds. However, Braxton Hicks do not play a part in dilating the cervix. They are just an uncomfortable preparation for the big day.
How Can You Tell If It Is False Labor?
Now, you are probably wondering how to distinguish between true labor and false labor (such as Braxton Hicks). Here are some of the key descriptions of true labor contractions:
- True contractions are felt all over – not just on one side of the body.
- True contractions last longer than a few seconds.
- True contractions are regular in pattern.
- True contractions become more intense and become closer together as labor progresses.
Here are some of the key descriptions of Braxton Hicks:
- May be felt only on one side or
- Uncomfortable rather than painful
- Do not increase in intensity or get closer together
- May stop when you change positions or move
Ways to Relieve Braxton Hicks
If you feel like you are experiencing uncomfortable Braxton Hicks, there are some ways to find relief. For example, Braxton Hicks are often calmed by changing position. You should also be sure you drink enough fluids. And, you should try to rest.
If you are having a difficult time distinguishing between true or false labor, it is a good idea to drink a full glass of water, change your position by lying on your left side, and try to breathe calmly and rest.
If you are experiencing Braxton Hicks, they should subside. If the contractions continue after moving and begin increasing in frequency and intensity, you may be in true labor.
When to Head to The Hospital
Generally, the rule is that once your contractions are coming every 4-5 minutes for two hours, or your water breaks, it is time to call your doctor and head to the hospital. Additionally, you should pay attention to the increasing intensity. Pregnancies after the first tend to move more quickly.
Other Times to Call Your Doctor
In addition, you should not hesitate to contact your doctor even if you think you are just experiencing false labor preterm. Parents also explains that pregnant women should contact their healthcare provider if they experience heavy vaginal bleeding, no movement from the baby, swelling of face or hands, blurred vision, severe headaches, dizziness, intense stomach pain, or seizures.
To Wrap Up
Contractions are the pain you experience as the uterine muscle contracts in during labor. Braxton Hicks are small contractions that do not increase in frequency or intensity – they are more uncomfortable than painful. If you seem to have contractions only on one side, they are most likely Braxton Hicks.
If you notice your contractions do not stop when you change position or rest, but grow in intensity and frequency, then true labor has begun. What Other Questions or Concerns Do You Have? Let Me Know in the Comments!