You may have felt an occasional squeezing or tightening across your abdomen in the last few weeks. As you enter your third trimester, this feeling, called a Braxton-Hicks contraction, may get stronger and more frequent.
As you near the end of your pregnancy, you may wonder how to tell the difference between a Braxton-Hicks contraction and a true labor contraction.
Braxton-Hicks vs. True Labor
What Braxton-Hicks Contractions Feel Like
The uterus is a large muscle, and a Braxton-Hicks contraction is an irregular, involuntary flexing of that muscle—a gentle workout to prepare it for the hard work of labor.
Usually, women feel them begin near the pubic bone and move up toward the top of the uterus.
What True Contractions Feel Like
True contractions that kick off labor tend to be felt much lower and deeper. Many women describe them as a strong pulling around the vagina that rises toward the pubic bone.
True contractions may be intense yet rarely exceed one minute. In real labor you usually see a pink- or red-tinged plug of mucus from the cervix, called the “bloody show.”
Drinking Water Helps
Braxton-Hicks contractions can be strong enough to require deep breathing and can occur more than 3–4 times in an hour, like labor contractions. They are especially likely to be strong and frequent if you are a little dehydrated or running a fever. If they are Braxton-Hicks, drinking 4–6 glasses of water and lying on the left side usually calms them down, while true labor contractions will increase in frequency and strength, no matter what you do.
Braxton-Hicks Can Happen After a Burst of Activity
Braxton-Hicks contractions may also occur after a sudden burst of activity, like running up the stairs, or first thing in the morning when you awaken with a full bladder, or following sex.
Fetal Movement Can Feel Like a Contraction
Fetal movement can also mimic a contraction. You can tell the difference by placing your hands on the top and sides of the uterus. If it’s a contraction, the uterus will feel hard all over and tight to your pressed fingertips. If the uterus feels hard in some places and soft in others, your baby’s movements are probably causing the sensation.