Are these contractions normal? We hear this question all. The. Time. And what have we learned in our world of thousands of contraction tracking moms? Well, “normal contractions” is a relative term. Every pregnancy is different! So how can you tell the difference between Braxton Hicks, false labor, and true labor? And how do you learn what is “normal” for you?
“normal contractions” is a relative term. Every pregnancy is different!
Braxton Hicks vs. Labor contractions
To get you started on distinguishing non-labor contractions (Braxton Hicks) from labor contractions, here are a few handy rules of thumb:
Normal contractions: Braxton Hicks contractions
The term “Braxton Hicks contraction” is a bit of a catch-all. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) defines them as contractions that are “irregular and do not get closer together.” This means that understanding the contraction pattern is key.
Braxton Hicks contractions can range from completely painless to mildly uncomfortable to a jolt that takes your breath away. In our surveys, we have found that some women reliably felt their Braxton Hicks contractions while many had no idea their uterus was contracting until labor started. Some didn’t even know then!
Braxton Hicks contractions are a normal part of the second and third trimesters.
Braxton Hicks contractions are a normal part of the second and third trimesters. And many doctors and midwives think of these non-labor contractions as a way to tone the uterine muscle. Currently, science is too scant to fully understand how these contractions might predict labor. However, some evidence suggests that as baby’s birth date approaches, such non-labor contractions increase in frequency, perhaps ramping up the uterine workout regimen in preparation for the big day.
Normal contractions: False labor vs. real labor
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends a few tricks to determine if you are feeling Braxton Hicks, false labor contractions or real labor contractions (see infographic above). Timing contractions is one trick. This means how far apart they are, how long each contraction lasts and whether the contractions are regular and getting closer together.
Tracking and Timing Contractions can help Figure out if It’s Real Labor.
When we interviewed members of the birth community about Braxton Hicks vs. labor contractions they also added their suggestions for distinguishing the two on your own (check out the article here). Really, the only way to know whether or not it is truly labor is to have a medical professional do a cervical exam since labor contractions. By definition, labor contractions are contractions that cause cervical change. Once the cervix starts to dilate, labor has begun and every contraction will start working its way to the end goal of getting that baby out.
Normal contractions: Irritable uterus
Sometimes, Braxton Hicks contractions can get a bit excessive. Irritable uterus or “uterine irritability” is often used to describe when non-labor-inducing contractions occur frequently without consistency or pattern. Yup, basically just more of the same.
An irritable uterus is more like a twitching muscle than a flexing muscle. These little twitches can be painful. They can be painless. They can be downright annoying.
Uterine irritability can result from something as basic as dehydration, stress, or even a full bladder. Advice usually follows as you might expect: Drink more water, find ways to unwind, pee.
These contractions are not dangerous but they are not necessarily normal. It is worth keeping a close eye on them and discuss with your care team if you are at all worried. There isn’t solid evidence showing a direct causal link between irritable uterus and preterm labor. However, one study did show a weak association between uterine irritability and preterm birth (18% vs. 11% in surveyed women with and without an irritable uterus, respectively.)
If you do have an irritable uterus, Bloomlife can help you better track and understand your body. Several moms who have experienced uterine irritability and used Bloomlife (like Melissa) report that Bloomlife helped them learn about their uterine activity, keep an eye on their contractions, and be mindful of the steps to calm their irritable uterus.
See how Bloomlife can help you track your contractions here.
This information is meant to get you started. Bloomlife should be used to facilitate, but never replace, conversation with your birth team. If you have any concern at any point, contact your health care provider.