Braxton Hicks vs. Uterine Contractions

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Contracting isn’t laboring.

You can experience cramps and practice contractions and not be in labor. Contracting is something you do your entire pregnancy as your uterus leans how to coordinate itself.  Just like a race, you cannot go out and run a marathon untrained, the uterus also needs ‘practice runs’ to train for the main event, birth.

Unfortunately, even if you have a lot of contractions, if your cervix is not changing or opening, you aren’t in labor.

I see so many women exhausted and needing the assistance of epidurals and Pitocin because they thought, believed, or were told all those contractions were labor contractions.  Instead of resting, relaxing, and trusting their bodies to work the women let their anxiety lead them.  They walk, climb stairs, and squat for hours because that is what makes the contractions more regular or stronger. These increasing, unproductive, and painful contractions keep women up, anxious, and unable to sleep.

Too often I hear “I was in labor for three days”. Yet when we talk about the labor pattern and cervical change, true uterine contractions actually began only eight hours prior to birth. So, when did labor actually start? Three days ago, or eight hours ago?

Learn the difference.

Braxton Hicks:

  • Are irregular in length and duration
  • You can have up to 6 of them an hour and not be in labor
  • Frequency and duration will change with positions changes, activity, and hydration
  • Can start as early as 18 weeks, but most women don’t feel them until the uterus is large in the third trimester
  • Can be isolated to a single area on the uterus (like low above the mons) or radiate throughout the whole uterus


True labor contractions:

  • Have a definitive beginning, middle, and end
  • Are regular in length and duration
  • Get progressively stronger
  • Do not change or space out with a change of position, activity, or hydration
  • Are not isolated to one area, rather the involve the whole uterus front to back and top to bottom


Trust that you’ll know when it is time to pay attention. I promise you will not miss it.  Rest, sleep, hydrate, and do your daily life. Labor is a hormonal dance between you and your baby, it’s not a thing you can or should try to control.