Preterm Labor vs Braxton Hicks [Differences, When to Worry]

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The preterm labor vs Braxton Hicks differentiation is one of the most confusing, yet most important things when it comes to first-time moms. Knowing how to recognize each helps you be less stressed, more confident, and know when it’s time to go to the hospital.

You can also check out my article on whether it’s safe to give birth at 7 months compared to 8 months, or if it’s just an old wives tale.

Braxton Hicks (False Labor) Symptoms

Braxton Hicks, known also as false contractions, help your body prepare for real labor. Uterus is a muscle like any other, which means it will naturally contract from time to time. In doing so, it’s making sure all’s working well for when it’s time for the real deal.

For me, Braxton Hicks started at 20 weeks, although for most women they will start in the third trimester.

Worried and anxious about yours? Let’s talk.

But whether Braxton Hicks start at 30 weeks or far earlier, they always feel the same way:

  • Your belly tightens – it becomes so tight it’s cement-like
  • They usually don’t last for more than 30 seconds
  • They come and go without a specific rule or rhythm – it tends to be caused by outside factors or rather random
  • They’re not painful, only cause discomfort.

For many women, these symptoms are so mild they will hardly notice them. Others (and me among them) are very aware of them.

What Causes Braxton Hicks Contractions?

False labor symptoms may be random, or caused by certain factors like:

  • Dehydration
  • Excessive physical effort (even too much walking can do it)
  • Sneezing
  • Intercourse (or rather, Oxytocin that gets secreted during and after it)

What Can You Do to Calm Them?

Braxton Hicks contractions usually go away quickly. Try breathing deeply, changing your position (for me, lying on my side tends to help), or walking it off. To prevent them, try taking more magnesium, and consult with your OB/GYN about which supplements to take.

When to Worry?

If Braxton Hicks and back pain coincide, you should call your doctor. Symptoms like back pain, menstrual-like cramps, spotting, pain, and contractions being rhythmic/lasting for a minute can be signs of preterm labor. Frequent Braxton Hicks (5-6 a day are tolerable, some even tolerate 10, but not more than that) should also be checked out.

Preterm Labor vs Braxton Hicks: How to Recognize Real Labor

Actual labor will start with one of the three:

  • Your water breaking
  • Your mucus plug falling out
  • Contractions.

These contractions will be very different from the false ones. The main differences will be:

  • They’re painful.
  • They’ll last around a minute.
  • They’ll come in regular intervals.
  • They’ll start getting stronger. 
  • The intervals will start getting shorter.

As you can see, they should be fairly easy to differentiate from the false kind.

Preterm Labor vs Braxton Hicks: Bottom Line

Being pregnant for the first time is scary – trust me, I’m there right now. The first time I started getting Braxton Hicks, I thought it was just my baby pushing on my stomach real hard. Then, when I was prescribed medication due to those + carrying low, it was scary.

But so long as you keep this in mind and listen to the doctors, there’s no room for worry. Just remember: if they’re not painful, frequent, long-lasting, and they don’t come at regular intervals, chances are it’s the Braxton Hicks kind. If any of those boxes are checked, or you start spotting, be sure to contact your OB/GYN.


How can you tell the difference between Braxton-Hicks and preterm labor?

Braxton Hicks are not long-lasting, painful, frequent, or rhythmic. They’re also not followed by spotting, back pain, your water breaking, or your mucus plug falling out.

What do preterm contractions feel like?

Preterm contractions will be painful, with regular intervals, last for around a minute, and they’ll get stronger over time. You may experience back pain as well. If they are followed with spotting, your water breaking, or your mucus plug falling out, call your OB/GYN immediately.

Can real contractions be mistaken for Braxton-Hicks?

Hardly. Braxton-Hicks are uncomfortable, but not painful; they come and go, but not at regular intervals, and they usually pass if you change the position or walk it off.

Can Braxton Hicks last for hours?

Not even real contractions last for hours – each one lasts for about a minute. Braxton Hicks, on the other hand, should pass in about 30 seconds. They shouldn’t come at regular intervals nor appear for more than a couple times a day. If they do, call your OB/GYN immediately.


A 27-year-old married mom, trying to have it all. I have a full-time job I enjoy, a home I’m in love with, and plenty of hobbies I try my best to have the time for. A psychologist by vocation, with the goal of helping young women live their best lives.

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