Join Trish Ware, a seasoned labor and delivery nurse and mother of seven, as she shares her invaluable insights and expertise to help expecting mothers understand the difference between real labor contractions and Braxton Hicks contractions.

Understanding Contractions:

Trish dives into the characteristics of both types of contractions, highlighting the regularity, intensity, and purpose of genuine labor contractions in facilitating cervical dilation and moving the baby into the birth canal.

Identifying Real Labor:

Discover the telltale signs that indicate the onset of real labor, empowering listeners to recognize these key differences and make informed decisions during their birthing experience.

Navigating Uncertainty:

Trish addresses concerns about false alarms and unnecessary hospital visits, providing valuable insights on when to seek medical advice amidst the uncertainties of labor.

Prodromal Labor:

Explore the concept of prodromal labor with Trish, who offers practical advice on recognizing and effectively managing this phase of pre-labor.

Tune in to this educational episode for a deeper understanding of labor and gain the tools needed to embark on your journey towards motherhood with confidence.

More from this episode:

Read the blog: The Signs That You are in Real Labor and Not false?


Grab a Free Pregnancy/Postpartum Checklist Bundle

Connect w/ Trish:

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For more pregnancy & birth education, subscribe to The Birth Experience on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Next Steps with LNM:

If you are ready to invest in your pregnancy & postpartum journey, you are in the right place. I would love to take your hand and support you in your virtual labor room!

If you are ready to dive into a birth class and have your best and most powerful birth story, then Calm Labor Confident Birth or The VBAC Lab is your next step.

If you have a scheduled cesarean, take our Belly Birth Masterclass and own that experience.

If you are a newly pregnant mama or just had the babe, you want to join our private pregnancy and postpartum membership, Calm Mama Society.

Remember, my advice is not medical advice. Always discuss what you learn with your team. See my Disclaimer here! Also, We make a small commission from some of the links (you don’t pay any more for using our links); however some of the recommendations, we do not earn anything; we love ’em and want you to know about them.


TRISH: [00:00:00] My name is Trish Ware and I am obsessed with all things pregnancy and birth and helping you to navigate with the practical and the magical seasons of this journey called motherhood. I'm an all day coffee sippin mama of seven. I've had the amazing privilege of delivering many babies. And my 15 plus year career as a labor and delivery nurse and as a mama of seven. 

I'm here to help you take the guesswork out of childbirth so you can make the choices that are right for you and your baby. Quick note, this podcast is for educational purposes only and does not replace your medical advice. Check out our full disclaimer at the bottom of the screen. of the show notes. 

Okay, so we're gonna talk about contractions. I'm gonna just break down what contractions do [00:01:00] and why there's such a distinct difference between real labor contractions and Braxton Hicks or false labor. So hopefully you guys are excited to talk about that because we get lots of questions inside of our student community and also inside of our membership about, how do I know if these are going to be real labor contractions? 

How do I know? What if it's not the real labor contractions? What if it's false? And I go to the hospital and they send me home and all of those things. So we're going to talk about that. My stinking mouse pad messed up. So I'm gonna, I've got my notes here because you guys know if I don't have notes, I will go off on 50 million tangents and then you guys will be bored. 

So anyhow, so we're going to talk about this topic because it can be a little bit confusing. But the main thing that I want you guys to leave today is that real labor contractions [00:02:00] declare themselves. And there's just no getting away with it. So a lot of times what we tell our mamas inside of our student community is that if you have to wonder, if you're wondering and you're like questioning, then there's a huge chance that it's not real labor. 

Now, that being said, you guys, I can always be wrong. I am never 100 percent right. There's always that one person who throws a loop into this whole conversation and has very weird, unpredictable labor. I myself, with all six of my babies, had very strange labor patterns, which of course I did it strange, that's how it goes. 

However, we're going to talk about what typically. what it typically looks like. Hopefully that makes sense. Okay. So the goal of this episode, if you will, is I want you guys to have a basic understanding of what the differences feel [00:03:00] like and why they feel so different. I don't want you just to be able to know how to recognize, I want you to understand why we have practice contractions or Braxton Hicks and why we have real labor contractions. 

So if you think about the Braxton Hicks are these they're gearing up for the real deal. And it's really very ineffective. So if we had your uterus then I'm, I meant to have a balloon so I could show you, but I have a really good reel on this that we did recently. So if you have your uterus, it's a giant muscle, right? 

The shape of a balloon, an oval or an egg. Practice contractions are Braxton Hicks, if you will, they can start as early as the second trimester and go all the way up until relabor begins. And really what it is it's that uterus doing some activity. But it's very uncoordinated. It's very sporadic. 

It's very [00:04:00] irregular. And it's not really going to do much, but it is your uterus like gearing up, getting ready for that, that first, real experience, real labor. So the characteristics of fake or false contractions or Braxton hooks is that They're not very strong. However, I want to say that sometimes they are painful. 

So if you're looking for pain to be your indicator, it's not always the case because Bradley or Braxton Hicks can be painful. So they're, the intensity of them though, is they're not strong because they're not going to move the baby down into the pelvis. So here's your pelvis, baby's up here. Braxton Hicks, they just, They're not enough to do anything, right? 

They're not going to squeeze the baby down, but they are going to feel like the same in the sense of you're going to feel the [00:05:00] tightening. You're going to feel a little bit of cramping, but they're not super strong. Whereas a real labor contraction has a purpose and a goal. And we're going to talk about that in a minute. 

So The other thing about Braxton Hicks is literally they have no rhyme or reason. So they could be every 10 minutes for an hour, and then they jump to 15 minutes, then 18 minutes, then 23 minutes, then 6 minutes, then 2 minutes, then 18 minutes, then 60 minutes, and then they're gone. So they have no regular frequency. 

So that's the other characteristic of a Braxton Hicks contraction, is that they're just very irregular. And if you think of them as they're just like pulses, right? So they may pulse a little, but they're not regular pulses. Whereas a real labor contraction is going to be very regular. It's going to come in a regular manner. 

Now, Braxton Hicks can turn into real labor. So you may start out wondering, and then it declares itself. Remember, [00:06:00] real labor contractions declare themselves. So they're not as strong. And they're not as often. They're and they're just sporadic. Like they're not dependable. I always joke with my girls and say they're like, that friend that you make plans with, but she doesn't, there's a huge chance she's not going to show up or she's going to cancel. 

That's a Braxton Hicks. A real labor contraction is like your most faithful, timely, intense friend that you have. And she's always going to show up. She's always on time. She's super dependable. The other thing about a Braxton Hicks is they, the duration of them, they're usually under 30 seconds each. 

And again, the reason is they're not really doing anything. They don't have a purpose and they're not backed by oxytocin. So they're just like, stop. stop. And they're usually in, so when you have a real labor contraction, a lot of times they're going to start in your lower back. They're going to work around where, or they're going to start, you're going to feel the [00:07:00] cramping at the top and pushing down. 

Whereas a Braxton Hicks, you might feel it. just anywhere. It's just very unpredictable. So you really want to pay attention to those things. Is it getting stronger? Is it getting more frequent or more regular? And how long is it lasting? The location of where you're feeling this Contraction matters because a real labor contraction is going to move the baby down. 

So it's going to squeeze down and you may feel pain starting in your back and radiating, but you're usually going to feel that tightening coming from the top and pushing the baby down because a real labor contraction has a job. It has a purpose. And the purpose is to bring the baby forward. farther into the pelvis and press down on the cervix, because the magical, most magical thing that happens during labor is your baby's head applying pressure on the [00:08:00] cervix. 

When the baby's head presses down on the cervix, that tells the brain to shoot out the love hormone, the labor hormone, oxy, I almost said oxy cotton, that is not what you want, oxytocin. Where that came from, I don't know. Anyway, so the real labor contractions have a purpose, and the purpose is continuing the momentum of your labor. 

And as the baby moves down onto the cervix, the brain says, shoot out more oxytocin. The oxytocin comes out, and guess what happens? The contractions get stronger. So that's your first clue that it's a real labor contraction. It's not going to just be like this hurts, oh, it hurts about the same, it hurts about the same. 

No, it's going to progressively get more intense because as it does its job and the baby pushes down onto the cervix, more oxytocin is going to flood your system, which makes that contraction stronger. A stronger contraction is [00:09:00] going to pro propel the labor product or progress and they're going to get closer together. 

So you're going to have more and more contractions. So with real labor contractions, they usually start out very reliable, like that good friend who's reliable. So they may be every hour. Then they're every 40 minutes, then they're every 20 minutes, but they're regular, like clockwork. You can expect that they're coming, and then they're going to get down closer and closer, 10 minutes, every five minutes, every four minutes. 

Now you head into the hospital. Because remember, my first time labor rule for my first time mom is when your contractions are four minutes apart or less. each contraction lasting for a minute or more, and that happens for two hours. So that's the next thing, the duration of a real labor contraction. It's going to be at least 60 seconds, if not longer, 60 to 90 seconds. 

Whereas you remember your false labor contractions, your Braxton [00:10:00] Hicks are like 30 seconds. Real labor contractions are going to be 60 to 90 seconds. The false labor contractions are like 20, 30 seconds. They're little putzers. They just aren't doing anything. They're just like, kink, little bit of static. 

Now, the other thing to note again is it's going to move down and push down. So you're going to feel a lot more tightening at the fundus, which is the top of your uterus. And here's the real kicker. Real labor contractions cause dilation. Whereas Braxton hooks are not going to change your cervix, a real labor contraction changes your cervix. 

So the biggest test of whether or not it's real is, are you having cervical dilation? So a lot of times when you come in for a labor check at the hospital and you're not sure if you're in labor. That's one of the times where we really need to do a cervical check if you're unsure. Now if you come [00:11:00] in and it's very obvious, it might not be necessary, but it will give you reassurance that yeah, this is real labor. 

So what we normally do in triage, if you come in for a labor check, not sure, is it labor, is it not labor? We're going to do a dilation check right when you arrive, and then we're going to do one, two hours later, if there's any cervical change. Now, that's not just dilation. That's whether, maybe you have effaced more, you've gotten thinner, or your cervix went from posterior to anterior. 

And that will also tell us, Baby's probably coming. So it really does help if you're unsure. However, my advice to you and my advice to my students is if you're unsure, stay at home. Real labor declares itself. I want you guys to get that in your mind. Real labor declares itself. So if you've been afraid what if I don't know if it's real labor? 

What if I get confused? What if I go in? I want you to let that fear go. And you guys all know, I say, pull it out, throw [00:12:00] it away. And I want you to remind yourself. Over and over again, that real labor declares itself. It will let you know if it's your labor. If you have to continually question it, it's probably not real labor. 

Again, if you're really anxious and wondering. Now, if you're one of my students and you have virtual access, then you can ask in your labor bat signal because my students get like the special DM with me and my doulas. So we will help you navigate that. But if you don't have virtual access. What you need to do is constantly tell yourself, okay, ask myself these questions. 

Are these contractions getting stronger? So that's question number one. Question number two is, are they getting more regular? If the answer is yes to those, then keep going. If the answer is okay, are they getting stronger? No. Then forget the rest of the questions. It doesn't matter. It's probably [00:13:00] false. 

But if you ask yourself, is it getting stronger? And you're like, yeah, they are getting stronger. Move to, are they getting more regular? If they're getting more regular, then it's probably real labor. Then ask yourself, are they getting longer in duration? Are they lasting longer? Yep, they are. Okay. It's probably real labor. 

And then ask yourself, are they getting are they progressing? Are they getting are, am I feeling the baby moving down? And do I need to get a labor check? My answer to that is probably not. Allow it to get to your labor role. So if you're a first time mom, it's 4 1 2. If you've had a baby, it's 5 1 1. 

Again, write those questions down and ask yourself, All right. Is it getting stronger? Are they getting more? Are they more coming more often? Are they lasting longer? And am I feeling more and more pain or am I having a hard time [00:14:00] talking through them? Those are all signs that it's probably real And if those things are not happening more than likely, it's not real labor. 

Now I wanted to add one more thing into this topic. It's prodromal labor. Now prodromal labor can look a lot like real labor and it does actually affect your cervix most of the time. But what happens with prodromal labor is all those questions I asked you to ask yourself, you're like yeah. 

Usually happens at night. And the reason that is, is our oxytocin increases at night with melatonin, it's, they're like best buddies. But what will happen is come morning, it just stops. And that's usually prodromal labor. And our tip for prodromal labor is to start doing the mile circuit. Sometimes that can help kick you out of prodromal labor. 

Okay, this was just a little quickie teaching. I hope this helped. I hope you enjoyed this Instagram live that I did teaching about false labor versus real labor. [00:15:00] This can be a real conundrum at the end of pregnancy, so make sure that you take those tips that I gave you and write them somewhere handy. If you haven't taken a birth class, hop in our birth class. 

Now's the time. We'd love to have you and get to know you. We have weekly coaching every single Wednesday with me and my doulas. Okay, you guys have a fantastic day as always. Bye for now.