One of the questions I get asked frequently is “How will I know? I have braxton hicks all the time! How will it know the difference?” My quick answer to this question is simple… I promise you that you are not gonna miss it! At some point it will be real labor and you will know it! 99.9999999999% of the time at least! For those of you wondering how to tell the difference between braxton hicks preparing you for labor and contractions that are labor here are a few points…
What is Labor?
First of all we have to define what labor even is! Labor is the process of your baby being born by the force of uterine contractions moving baby downward and causing cervical change. Cervical change means softening, thinning, moving forward and dilating (opening) of the cervix. Prior to labor many 1st time moms will start labor with a cervix that is long/thick maybe a 1-2cm dilated, and pointed towards her back. This is a generalisation as this differs greatly among woman. One woman may start her labor with a closed cervix and one woman may start her labors at 6 cm! The lengths of each of their labors may be vastly different or extremely similar. Every woman and her body is different! Regardless of where someone starts labor contractions are still going to cause cervical change (at differing paces) that will eventually make her 10cm dilated and ready to push. the process from starting labor to pushing is what we call the 1st stage of labor. From when a woman pushes to when baby is actually born is called the 2nd stage.
What are Braxton Hicks?
Braxton hicks are practice contractions that occur prior to labor. Some woman have lots of them, some feel barely any, and some will have lots that turn into labor. They usually come and go. Will increase if you’re over active or dehydrated. While they may feel pointless they still preparing your body for labor. They usually help soften and thin the cervix and may also help dilate it a little. They are not usually painful.
Is this Real?
Lets say you are having lots of contractions that you are unsure if they are braxton hicks or if this is the start of the real thing. First of all, don’t get too excited! What I mean by that is if its the middle of the night try to go back to bed and rest. You will need all the sleep (even if its broken or poor) that you can get. Labor is a marathon, take advantage of early labor to rest up. Don’t get up, turn all the lights on and tell your whole family! This can actually slow your labor down! Call your midwife give her a heads up then stay in bed and try to sleep in between.
On a second scenario lets say you are up cleaning your house all day and start to feel frequent contractions. Go lie down or take a warm bath, drink some water and try to rest. Practice contractions will usually go away at this point.
However, in both these scenarios contractions that are labor will not stop despite a warm bath or lying down. They will keep coming while gradually (usually) getting closer together, longer, and more intense.
The general rule of thumb is that its time to be at the birth center when your contractions are 5 minutes apart (counting from the beginning of one to the beginning of another), lasting a whole minute, and this has been going on for at least 1 hour.
The safest bet is too simply be in good communication with your midwife throughout this process. They will help you decide when its time to be seen and can help you if you are experiencing prodromal labor (we will talk about that next week!).
Again every womans’ labor pattern is so different and unique to her and her baby it is hard to make any generalizations! So take all of this with a grain of salt. Trust your body and trust your baby known exactly when to come.