Is It Braxton Hicks, Prodromal or Real Labor?


I'm a rare creature and never really felt contractions. In fact, I had my first child still without really feeling a single one. Tons of back pain, yeah, but not contractions. Second go, again, none. I tried pushing on my belly when I'd get a tiny strange sensation to see if it hardened, but felt nothing either, but that itty bitty sensation was all the contractions I got, up until I was around 8cm dilated. THEN I finally felt them, and felt them hard.

So for me, there was no "Is this labor? Or are these Braxton Hicks?" concerns. There's also prodromal labor, that are real, functional contractions that can REALLY feel like labor but aren't. How can you tell the difference?

Braxton-Hicks are "practice" contractions that happen throughout your pregnancy, and can happen in more regular or strong manners the closer you get to giving birth, but it's not 'real' labor, and generally won't be confused as such.

Prodromal labor is "practice" labor, but it can continue for weeks on end. Sometimes it's confused as real labor, then thought to be stalled real labor, but you've got to remember even real labor can start and stop, allowing mommy to rest before crucial intervals.

So, if you're starting to have things pick up and you're not sure if it's prodromal labor or the real thing, there's some ways to find out:

Try walking, if it's:

  • prodromal labor, contractions will feel weaker and slow down.
  • true labor, contractions will feel stronger and time between will shorten. Don't wear yourself out, though.

Locate the pain, if it's:

  • prodromal labor, the pain will be in the lower abdomen.
  • true labor, pain can be in the back and increase there, or spread around to the whole abdomen and even the legs.

Time the contractions, if it's:

  • prodromal labor, the contractions will be relatively regular, and not continue to increase in speed or duration, likely not getting closer than 7 minutes together.
  • true labor, they will get longer and closer together.

Lay down on your left side, if it's:

  • prodromal labor, the contractions will lessen or stop.
  • real labor, there will be little to no change in duration or strength of contractions.

Drink lots of water, if it's:

  • prodromal labor, contractions can slow down or stop.
  • real labor, you'll be more hydrated but otherwise it'll change nothing.

What helped you know the difference between real labor and just your body gearing up for it?


Image via chrisamichaels/Flickr

3rd trimester, labor, pregnancy symptoms


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ArmyW... ArmyWife8297

interesting cuz false starts up front, true starts in the back, mine start in the back and can come every 30min or a few times an hour or until i lay down, then goes away, mine also last about 10 min at a everyone is different sadly my doctors show no concern 

butte... butterflymkm

I have no clue. When I had DD my water broke and ten hours later not a single contraction :( they wanted to make me get pitocin and I refused so I had to get a csection and my dr got pissy about it. The anastesiologist didn't put my epi in right and I felt them slicing, it was HORRIBLE! So they completely knocked me out an I didn't get to even see DD for hours. Bad birth experience. Now I know that if I ha been given more time, I might have started to contract on my own. I hope to do a homebirth w/ midwife next time.

Shannon Piper

I am pregnant with my 5th child now and I think it's funny that with each pregnancy it's gotten a little more ambiguous, the line between "the real thing" and practice contrax has gotten blurrier. With my last pregnancy I had prodromal labor contractions every night as I cooked dinner, cleaned up and got my kids ready for bed- for the last month of my pregnancy. But didn't go into labor till my due date. Now I am 27 weeks along and already I have noticed that my braxton hicks are starting to feel more and more like actual contrax. They're starting to have that crampy menstrual feeling along with them. 3 mos. of that will be fun!  lol.  But still, real labor is unmistakable. Even though last pregnancy I spent 3 weeks thinking "this could be it" on the actual day it only took about a half hour to realize "this is it!"   :)

Xandr... Xandriasmommy

I had prodromal labor with my dd. I labored for 10 days. Walking made it worse for me. My pains went from back to front and moved down. It sucked. I was utterly exhausted so when it came time to push I fell asleep.

Rose Martinez

I had what the kept calling Braxton hicks. The last time I went to the hospital the nurse swore there was no labor pattern and was about to release me but decided to check my cervix "just in case". What do you know I was 4 cm, at 34 weeks.... next morning the machine said I wasn't having contractions, I kept telling the nurse I was, then they checked my cervix "just in case" again before they released me and I was 6cm.... had my LO an hour and a half later... hummm  those nurses need to listen to their patient instead of the machine

Amand... Amanda_Jeanne

I honestly didn't even know what to expect contraction-wise... with DS, the night I went into labor I thought I had just eaten something bad and had to poop lol. I was visiting the restroom quite a few times during the night because I kept having "poop cramps" but nothing was coming out... so when they started to get a little more painful, I figured it wasn't poop anymore lol. Sure enough, by the time I arrived at the hospital, I was already 5cm and in the zone. The crazy things that go through a first time mom's head...

nonmember avatar Sara

I walked. I started having very mild contractions (less painful than cramps) around 10am. They were very regular and quickly increased to every 4 minutes. By lunchtime they were still barely painful, so I walked around the block with my hubby. I'll always remember that walk! When we got home, I laid down for a little while and timed them, and they were just as regular, but STILL not painful! I finally called the doc and she said to head to the hospital, where I was dilated to 3cm. They kept me because the contractions showed strongly and regularly at 3 mins apart, but I still wasn't in pain. Even when i had my epidural at 6cm I wasn't in much pain! DD was born 12 hours after arriving at the hospital.

nonmember avatar kalmmom

That at 6months along the contractions wouldn't stop no matter what I did - that's how I knew they were real. Doc said if I had waited any longer I would have had him that night (that was my 1st pregnancy). Same thing with my second, only this time I knew better and called the doc when it started and they immediately brought me in and put me on meds to stop the contractions and told me to increase my water intake. I still had issues with both pregnancies up until delivery and delivery was rough as well (water broke early, strong regular contractions but big headed and big shouldered boys who were hard to push out, almost had dry birth with both, etc.) It was funny cause the pregnancies were 12yrs apart but they were IDENTICAL as far as when I started having contractions and needed meds and all that.

Xakana Xakana

Walking--nope. No change between prodromal labor and real labor. Couldn't walk during contractions, they'd knock me over. Neither one was sped or slowed by walking.

I have always only felt pain in my lower abdomen. Back labor happened when my baby was posterior and smashed my tailbone with her head. It's not the norm from the hundreds of birth stories I've read--only seems to happen in poorly positioned babies. Although I had full wrap around pain with some braxton hicks the other day. How do I know they were BH? Because I was 12 weeks and I'm now 13 weeks and still pregnant.

Prodromal labor, two labors: contractions were 2-3 minutes apart for hours on end, every day for four weeks in the first and off and on days for two or three weeks in the second. That's how I START OUT.

Prodromal labor didn't stop when I laid on my side or drank water, etc. until it was done with its practice session. Ever.

miche... micheledo

The other thing to remember, is that all the info out there is just general truths.  We are ALL different and our bodies handle labor differently.  I had prodromal labor for about 4 weeks.  Even the doctor said I was in labor with 2 of my children.  With my 4th I learned to just deal with it.  The contractions got longer, harder, and closer together - so timing them or expecting them to stop didn't help at all.  The last week or so they were keeping me awake at night they were SO strong.  By the final week it was starting around 11 a.m. and continuing until the following morning around 4 a.m.  They would get harder, stronger, closer together, until I finally started sleeping through them around 2 a.m.  The day I went into labor I wasn't convinced it was real until I was told I was at 9 1/2 cm!!  Before that I had only been about 2 cm dilated after WEEKS of prodormal labor.

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