How to tell if contractions are real




By Aaron Kandola 


Reviewed by Valinda Riggins Nwadike


Labor contractions | Braxton-Hicks contractions | How to tell the difference | When to see a doctor | Takeaway

Real contractions follow a
consistent pattern, while Braxton-Hicks contractions vary in duration and
frequency. Braxton-Hicks contractions also tend to be less painful and usually
only cause discomfort in the front of the abdomen.


Braxton-Hicks contractions
simulate real contractions to prepare the body for labor. However, they do not
lead to labor. Real contractions only occur when the body is genuinely going
into labor.
Recognizing the difference
between these types of contraction is important for understanding when labor
has begun and when to contact a doctor.
Here, we discuss these types
of contraction and how to tell the difference between them.

Real labor contractions

Contractions occur when the
muscles around the uterus tighten and relax. They can occur at any time
throughout pregnancy. But “real” contractions only occur when labor
is starting.
Real labor contractions can be
painful, and the pain tends to intensify. It usually peaks when the muscles
tighten and eases when they relax.
The location of the pain
varies, but real contractions typically cause a dull ache around the abdomen
and lower back. In some women, the pain spreads to the sides and thighs.
Labor typically starts with
regular, persistent contractions. These cause the cervix to expand in
preparation for birth.

Braxton-Hicks contractions

Contractions can also occur
before labor. These are Braxton-Hicks contractions, sometimes known as
prodromal, or false, labor.
These contractions can begin
around 6 weeks into gestation, but they are not usually noticeable until the
second or third trimester. While the trigger for these contractions is unclear,
their function is to prepare the body for labor.
Braxton-Hicks contractions
tend to occur sporadically. They vary in frequency, duration, and intensity,
but they usually occur more frequently during later stages of pregnancy.
Braxton-Hicks contractions do
not cause the cervix to expand and do not lead to birth.
How to tell the difference


People often mistake
Braxton-Hicks contractions for real labor contractions, especially when they
occur in later stages of pregnancy. Here are some key differences between the
two:

  • Consistency: Real contractions
    last around 30–70 seconds and occur at regular intervals. Braxton-Hicks
    contractions do not follow a consistent pattern.
  • Increasing frequency: Real
    contractions become more frequent as labor approaches. Braxton-Hicks
    contractions do not increase in frequency.
  • Intensity of discomfort: In
    general, real contractions are more painful than Braxton-Hicks contractions.
    While they can be uncomfortable, Braxton-Hicks contractions do not typically
    cause pain.
  • Location of discomfort: A
    woman tends to feel real contractions throughout the abdomen and lower back,
    and the pain can spread to the legs. Braxton-Hicks contractions usually only
    cause discomfort in the front of the abdomen.
  • Effect of movement: Changing
    positions or moving in other ways often stops Braxton-Hicks contractions.
    Movement does not affect real contractions.
When to see a doctor

Learning to tell the
difference between types of contraction can help a person know when to contact
a doctor. However, consult a doctor if there is any uncertainty.
Real contractions are a sign
that labor is beginning, and contacting a doctor is essential.
Contractions are likely to be
real if they occur in a regular pattern and gradually increase in frequency.
Real contractions also tend to become painful, and the pain often spreads
across the abdomen and lower back.
Other signs that labor is
starting include:

  • vaginal bleeding that is a
    bright red color
  • the water breaking
In the buildup to labor, the
baby may move down toward the cervix. This can happen from a few weeks to a few
hours before labor.
Another sign is an increase in
vaginal discharge, which can occur days before labor.
If regular, painful
contractions occur before the third trimester, it is important to contact a
doctor. This could be a sign of preterm birth.

Takeaway

Real contractions are a sign
of labor. Braxton-Hicks contractions are not, and they do not lead to birth.
Real contractions are
generally more intense and follow a consistent pattern, while Braxton-Hicks
contractions do not. A woman usually feels pain from real contractions around
the abdomen, lower back, and sometimes in the legs.
Recognizing other signs of
labor, such as the water breaking, can be helpful in understanding the
difference between types of contraction. It is important to contact a doctor if
signs of labor occur or if there is any uncertainty.





SOURCE: MEDICAL NEWS TODAY
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.