False Labor or the Real Deal?

Doulas of Shanghai

There you are, going about your day. A busy day in the office, caring for a little one, or out at the park with friends.

And then there it is, a tightening sensation in your abdomen, or a menstrual cramp feeling. With it, the questions start coming:

“Contractions? Already? I’m not even close to my due date yet!”

“Yes, yes, yes! Could this finally be it? Is the baby coming soon?”

Feeling contractions can be exciting towards the end of pregnancy, especially as the last month of pregnancy drags on. It can also leave you with questions, wondering if this real, or if it’s what some call “false labor?”

Braxton Hicks are those preparatory contractions sometimes referred to as false labor. But there’s nothing false or fake about these contractions. While they don’t end with your body going into labor today, researchers believe that they are an important part of helping your body prepare for labor and birth.

Your uterus is an amazing muscle, with multiple layers of muscular tissue cross-crossing over it. And just like any muscle in your body, your uterus can get stronger by exercising and practicing contracting.

The uterus begins working early to prepare for labor, with Braxton Hicks contractions starting from seven weeks in pregnancy! But you won’t feel them quite so soon. Most women say they first notice them in the second or third trimester, while some never feel anything at all.

How can I know if I’m feeling Braxton Hicks or labor contractions?

If you’re unsure if what you’re feeling are labor contractions or Braxton Hicks, try tracking your contractions for an hour to see if any noticeable patterns emerge. You can keep track of the length, strength, and intervals on paper or one of the many apps out there.


Braxton Hicks contractions can vary in length, from 30 seconds to 2 minutes in length. Their length will be somewhat random, not growing longer over the course of your tracking.

Labor contractions will usually start out somewhat shorter, around 30-45 seconds, and increase in length as labor progresses, up to 90 seconds long during transition.


Braxton Hicks will vary in strength, but you’ll usually be able to talk through them. They will not increase steadily in strength during tracking.

Labor contractions will start out at a strength that you can walk or talk through, but will becoming stronger to a point where you won’t be able to talk through them. During strong labor contractions, it is normal for the birthing person to “go inward” and focus on the body and breathing, rather than the surroundings. Labor contractions will get stronger over time.


Braxton Hicks will happen in fairly random intervals coming every 10, 5, 15, or other lengths of time. They don’t have a recognizable pattern, and don’t become closer together.

During early labor, contractions may start out every 10-15 minutes, and become closer and closer together. During active labor contractions will be around 5 minutes apart, and during transition they could come every 2-3 minutes.

What can I do if I’m feeling contractions?

Both Braxton Hicks and early labor can feel uncomfortable, and even interrupt your activities during the day or night. Here are eight things you can try to get through your contractions:

  1. Drink a tall glass of water. If you’re a bit dehydrated, you’ll have higher concentrations of the hormone oxytocin in the blood, which can make Braxton Hicks feel stronger.
  2. If you’ve been active, try sitting or lying down.
  3. If you’ve been sitting or lying down, get up and go for a walk.
  4. Take a warm, relaxing bath in water deep enough to cover your belly.
  5. Try taking a nap.
  6. Watch a movie that you enjoy.
  7. Listen to music.
  8. Get a massage.

If your contractions indicate early labor or if you’re at all unsure, call your provider and doula and let them know what you’re feeling. They will help walk you through the next steps and give you comfort tips as your body works towards more active labor.  

If you’re in labor before 37 weeks, you could be experiencing preterm birth. Go immediately to your birth facility to get checked out by your doctor.

Doulas of Shanghai is the leading independent doula agency in Shanghai, serving families through pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period.

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Published by Doulas of Shanghai

Doulas of Shanghai is providing the leading care for families throughout pregnancy, labor, and the postpartum period.

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