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Braxton-Hicks: How to recognize real contractions from fake ones?

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Braxton-Hicks: How to recognize real contractions from fake ones?

Some contractions can announce an imminent delivery, sometimes before term, while others do not affect the cervix. The latter are called Braxton-Hicks contractions. But how can you tell the difference between real and fake contractions? How do you know if you should go to the place of delivery? Our explanations.

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The contraction is a hardening of the uterine muscle, the most powerful muscle in the human body, lasting from a few seconds at the beginning of labor to about 90 seconds just before expulsion. But there are also so-called Braxton-Hicks contractions that do not signal an immediate delivery and can be interpreted as a rehearsal of our uterus before the big day. How to recognize them?

Four months of pregnancy: the first Braxton-Hicks contractions

From the 4th month, it is usual to feel contractions. You can have between 10 and 15 per day; it’s a kind of warming up of the uterus muscle. These contractions, formerly called “false contractions,” are known as Braxton-Hicks contractions, named after the English doctor who first identified them. They do not affect the cervix: it remains long and unchanged.

Painful but not regular

In general, Braxton-Hicks contractions subside with a bit of rest, a change of position, a short walk, or a bath. They can be numerous, especially at the end of the day or after exercise. They are irregular and do not increase over time, unlike labor contractions.

The pain experienced varies greatly, but pregnant women often compare

Braxton-Hicks contractions to period pains or cramps on the front of the stomach.

Childbirth: How to recognize labor contractions?

Unlike Braxton-Hicks contractions, “real contractions” or labor contractions are regular (e.g., every 8 minutes) and intensify. They become more and more frequent and more and more painful. Each contraction starts in the lower back and then spreads to the front of the body to the lower abdomen. Changing position or activity does not influence our feelings.

Most importantly, labor contractions are associated with changes in the cervix (it becomes shorter or more open). In this case, they signify impending delivery, considered premature if it occurs before 37 weeks of amenorrhea.

Risks related to infections

The causes of premature delivery can be infectious: a urinary or vaginal infection that may have gone unnoticed. When you visit your midwife or doctor, or the maternity ward, you will examine the cervix and a vaginal swab to determine whether or not there is an infection.

The origin of the contractions can also be related to a dental problem. Health Insurance offers an oral check-up from 5 months of pregnancy, and dental care can be carried out during pregnancy.

If you have any doubts or concerns, don’t hesitate to consult.

Contractions, or our baby moving?

Some pregnant people, especially their first baby, sometimes have trouble distinguishing a contraction – real or fake – from the baby’s internal movements. The sensation is usually very different. The baby’s internal movements are lighter (except when it kicks).

Moreover, the contraction is sometimes visible to the naked eye, even if there is no pain accompanying it: the belly hardens and forms a ball, which comes out more or less.

What is a contractile uterus?

The uterus is “contractile” if these contractions are more numerous and present throughout the day. This is more frequent for a first baby or for rather small women and those who have an anxious profile or difficulties in the family.

The early prenatal interview (EPP) of the 4th month is a prevention tool: detecting these difficulties helps women get through them.

The latency period: false labor or false contractions

At the end of pregnancy, contractions become more and more frequent. Labor may seem to start, but it is not: labor stops entirely after a few hours of regular contractions. It is called the latency phase, formerly known as ‘false labor.’ It’s a kind of dress rehearsal for the body.

There is no rule: the cervix opens slowly, but it can stagnate for hours or even days without it being considered a danger. An excellent way to tell if they are real or fake contractions is to take a warm bath. If the contractions subside until they stop, it was a “false labor”: you can go back to bed to gain some time, reassure the midwife.

Pregnant women: when to go to the maternity ward?

It depends on the woman: If a woman can hold a conversation on the phone and doesn’t stop during the contraction, it’s because she’s not really in labor yet. On the other hand, when she no longer asks herself whether it’s time to go or not, it’s the right time for her!

There is no universal rule applicable to all in practice: For some, it will be time to go to the maternity hospital after one or two hours of contractions every 5 minutes. For others, it will be after 4 hours, especially if it is a first baby. I encourage women to stay as long as possible at home, where they feel more unrestrained on average: they will be better oxygenated during the contractions, which will be less intense.

Painful contractions during labor

During labor, the contractions are intense and prolonged, with a contraction lasting about 90 seconds. Labour is only really underway when the cervix is 5-6 cm open. “In some women, there is no pain, and it is just a very intense muscle tension.”

A lot also depends on the conditions of the birth. If the person who gives birth is serene or not, the sensation will be more or less intense if she can stay in her bubble. On the other hand, all mothers to be can experience a natural relaxation between two contractions due to melatonin, a sleep hormone produced in large quantities during childbirth. Some mothers go so far as to fall asleep between each contraction, which is perfect when the birth is particularly long.

Pain: how to relieve contractions?

Since the end of the 90s, bed rest is no longer recommended for future mothers to avoid premature delivery. You can try strolling, stretching, taking a bath, lying on your side, asking for a massage, or why not sing!

How to breathe during contractions?

The lactic acid, produced by the lack of oxygen, makes the muscle contraction pain stronger. Hence the idea of breathing calmly during the contraction, neither by blocking your breathing nor by hyperventilating (the “little dog” breathing is no longer recommended at all today).

We can ask the people around us who support us to say out loud “breathe in” and “breathe out” to help us settle into this calm rhythm!


Braxton-Hicks contractions, also known as prodromal or false labor pains, are the body’s way of preparing for labor, but if you have them, it doesn’t mean your labor has started. Unlike labor contractions, Braxton Hicks contractions: happen infrequently, are unpredictable and are more uncomfortable than painful.

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