Q&A With Dr Aliya: How To Know When Contractions Are False Labour

The difference between false labour, Braxton Hicks contractions and when you’re actually in labour

Q. I’m 27 weeks pregnant and I’ve recently experienced an episode of tightening in my stomach for a few seconds and then it was gone. It wasn’t really painful and nothing has happened since. Is this a Braxton Hicks contraction?

A. It sounds like you indeed had a Braxton Hicks contraction. 

These contractions are your uterus’s way of practicing for the main event—true labour. Named after the 19th century doctor who first described them, John Braxton Hicks, these contractions appear around 20 weeks, although they may be experienced earlier and more intensely if you’ve had a previous pregnancy. Many women describe them as a periodic uncomfortable tightening or hardening of their belly for less than 30 seconds before easing off.  

In comparison to Braxton Hicks contractions, true labour contractions are usually noticeably longer, more frequent and generally more painful. 

Another distinct difference is that true labour contractions tend to increase in frequency, duration and intensity as time progresses. Sometimes, Braxton Hicks contractions can become more rhythmic, every 10 to 20 minutes, later on in pregnancy. This is known as false labour.

False labour can be hard to tell apart from early labour, especially if tightening of the uterus feels very uncomfortable. However, early labour changes the cervix dilation, effacement and position while false labour does not cause any change in cervix.

Lastly, Braxton Hicks contractions tend to feel like an overall tightening of the uterus and are felt mostly in the front of the body. On the other hand, true labour contractions feel like menstrual cramp sensations around the back, hips and lower into pelvis. 

Here are a few tips to help ease Braxton Hicks (or “practice”) contractions:

  • Take a break. Contractions may be a sign that you are doing too much - try to rest to relieve discomfort. 
  • Hydrate. Often dehydration can cause increased cramping.  Increase fluid intake. 
  • Apply warmth. Taking a warm bath or shower or using a heating pad may offer some relief.

Do you have a question for Dr. Aliya? Send an email to editor@babypost.com with Dr. Aliya in the subject line and check back every Thursday to see what Dr. Aliya is writing about each week!

A health practitioner, chiropractor and acupuncturist with a distinct integrative care approach, Aliya brings extensive experience in pre-natal and pediatric wellness to her clinical practice at Restore Integrative Health  in Toronto. She is also a runner, yoga instructor and new mother.

Visit her website at draliya.ca or follow her on Twitter @DrAliyaVisram or on Instagram @DrAliyaVisramDC

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