How Do Braxton-Hicks vs. Contractions Feel?

Braxton-Hicks contractions can be felt during the third trimester of pregnancy. While it is possible to experience Braxton-Hicks contractions before labor begins, they are not labor contractions. 

The average pregnancy is 280 days or 40 weeks in length. It is common to go into labor between weeks 38 and 41 of pregnancy. Braxton-Hicks contractions are often uncomfortable but are not as painful as true labor. 

This article discusses Braxton-Hicks contractions and how to differentiate them from labor contractions.

A woman holding her pregnant belly

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Braxton-Hicks (False Labor) vs. Labor Contractions 

Braxton-Hicks contractions are known as false labor because they do not lead to any physical changes or the progression of labor. These contractions tend to be short and irregular.

The only way to know if your contractions are leading to labor is to have a vaginal exam to see if changes to the cervix have begun. 


It can be difficult to distinguish Braxton-Hicks and labor contractions, however, they do feel different. While both can be painful, Braxton-Hicks contractions are short and often feel like period cramping and a tightening of the abdomen. It can feel rock hard, which may or may not feel painful. Braxton-Hicks contractions are commonly experienced at the end of the day.

When you feel cramping or tightening in your abdomen, sit down, elevate your feet, and drink water. Rest and hydration usually make Braxton-Hicks go away. The discomfort may also improve when you change position.

Labor contractions can also start as uncomfortable cramping, but these contractions get more intense with time. They will get stronger, and there will likely be a point at which you cannot talk or laugh through the contractions. Also, unlike Braxton-Hicks, labor contractions are consistent. 


Both types of contractions also differ in their timing. Braxton-Hicks contractions are irregular and may come and go throughout the day. Labor contractions are regular and become progressively longer and closer together. Labor contractions in early labor may last about 30 to 70 seconds and become more intense over time.


Labor contractions are caused by hormonal changes that induce labor. As labor begins, the cervix dilates, and the uterus contracts. Uterine contractions are regular and become more painful as they progress.

Braxton-Hicks contractions do not have a known cause and are usually irregular.


Braxton-Hicks contractions do not cause other symptoms, such as a change in vaginal discharge. However, a bloody mucus-like discharge (bloody show) can occur with the cervical change associated with labor.


Braxton-Hicks contractions usually feel like cramping in the lower abdomen. The cramping pain does not occur anywhere else in the body.

Labor contractions often start in the low back and move to the front of the abdomen. These contractions cause the entire belly to become hard and then relax in between contractions.

Keep in mind, the location of where a person feels the contractions may vary.

To determine if your contractions mean that you are in early labor, follow the 5-1-1 rule:

  • Contractions are five minutes apart
  • Contractions are at least one minute
  • Contractions for at least one hour

How Do You Tell If You’re Having Contractions?

The best way to determine if your contractions are early labor is to rest and drink water since hydration seems to help Braxton-Hicks go away. Observe whether your contractions improve or continue to become more intense. Contractions that progressively become more frequent and more painful are likely labor contractions.

In addition to contractions, other signs of early labor are:

  • Lightening: You may notice your abdomen appears lower. It may feel easier to take a deep breath.
  • Bloody show: When the cervix dilates, the mucus plug loosens. You may see blood-tinged or brownish discharge.
  • Rupture of membranes: When your water breaks, the bag of fluid (amniotic sac) ruptures, leading to fluid leaking from the vagina. Labor usually starts within 24 hours of this rupture. 
  • Diarrhea: Loose stools may be a sign that labor is coming.

When to Call a Healthcare Provider 

Pregnancy is a time of rapid change and new symptoms. It can be difficult to know when to call your healthcare provider. It may be helpful to remember that you can contact your healthcare team any time you have questions or concerns. 

It is important to alert your healthcare provider to any of the following signs or symptoms:

  • You do not feel the baby moving (decreased fetal movement).
  • Your water breaks (membrane rupture).
  • You have vaginal bleeding.
  • Your regular, painful contractions are five to 10 minutes apart.
  • Your contractions last 60 to 90 seconds.
  • You have constant pain that does not improve.


Braxton-Hicks contractions are known as false labor because they feel like labor contractions but do not lead to any physical changes in the cervix. They often cause uncomfortable cramping in the lower abdomen, which can be quite painful. Braxton-Hicks contractions often occur at the end of the day.

Rest and hydration usually cause them to go away. Labor contractions cause the cervix to dilate and lead to labor. They are regular and become more intense and painful over time. Call your healthcare provider if you are unsure if you are in labor. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do contractions feel in the beginning of labor?

    At the beginning of labor, contractions may feel like dull cramping or low-back pain. Labor contractions often start in the low back and move to the front of the abdomen. They then progress to feeling more intense and painful.

  • Where do you feel contractions?

    Labor contractions can be felt in the abdomen and sometimes the lower back. Braxton-Hicks contractions are usually in the lower abdomen only.

  • Could Braxton-Hicks contractions just be my baby moving?

    It is possible that fetal movements could feel like cramping. If you are unsure of what you’re feeling, try resting and drinking water. If the contractions improve, they were probably Braxton-Hicks.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MedlinePlus. Am I in labor?.

  2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. How to tell when labor begins.

  3. American Pregnancy Association. Braxton-hicks contractions.

  4. Nemours KidsHealth. Are you in labor?

  5. Intermountain Healthcare. False vs true labor

By Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH
Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH, is a health writer with over a decade of experience working as a registered nurse. She has practiced in a variety of settings including pediatrics, oncology, chronic pain, and public health.