Difference between Braxton Hicks and Preterm Labor

There is a difference between Braxton Hicks and preterm labor. The two terms are very similar to a degree since they involve uterine contractions, but the differences that separate the two are varied. Looking into Braxton Hicks first, you will know more about the differences so that you can distinguish them better.

Braxton Hicks Differences

Braxton Hicks contractions can develop during the second and third trimester of pregnancy. They may be noticeable to you, but then again, they may barely be noticeable at all. If you do notice them, they will be cramping contractions similar to menstrual cramps. If you don’t notice them by feeling cramping, you may simply feel your tummy tightening up. You might even mistake the Braxton Hicks contractions as your baby balling up in your uterus.

These contractions will not become longer, stronger, and closer together. They will last anywhere from a few seconds to a full minute or two. When it comes to strength, they will not intensify enough to cause you to dilate, but they may help in causing your cervix to efface ( soften ). Braxton Hicks contractions will not develop a pattern of becoming closer together like real labor contractions. You may have one lasting two minutes, then an hour later, you may have one lasting ten seconds.

Braxton Hicks contractions can be alleviated, unlike preterm labor contractions. Sometimes you may develop Braxton Hicks contractions because you have been more active than usual. If this is the case, you can lie down on your left side for approximately thirty minutes to get them to stop. Maybe you are having Braxton Hicks contractions because you didn’t intake enough fluids. If so, get a full glass of water or juice and lie down on your left side while sipping it. Replacing lost fluids can help your uterine muscles to relax and relieve the contractions.

Preterm Labor Differences

The difference in preterm labor and Braxton Hicks is that preterm labor contractions ARE labor contractions that occur before your due date, or at least 37 weeks into your pregnancy.

You will notice preterm labor contractions, whereas with Braxton Hicks, you may not. These contractions will develop into the longer, stronger, closer together, pattern that accompanies labor. You may even notice that your baby is less active as well, which is common during labor. You should time the contractions once they begin so that you can get a time pattern to follow and see how long each one lasts. Now, look at the time you’ve been keeping to see if they are coming closer together. If you notice all three events unfolding, you need to get help immediately.

Preterm labor contractions are strong enough to cause you to dilate and efface. Braxton Hicks may cause a little effacement to occur, but will not dilate your cervix. You may notice that dilatation is taking place if you see your mucus plug has dislodged. Some women call this “bloody show” as mentioned earlier because you may notice some blood tinged streaks in the mucus plug itself. This is just exemplary because you can actually lose your mucus plug over a period of weeks or days without noticing it too much.

Preterm labor, as opposed to Braxton Hicks, may cause your water to break. The strength and continuing pattern of these contractions may just be intense enough to cause your bag of water to break. It may appear as a small trickle, wet spot in your panties, or a gush of warm fluid. Breaking of your water is a warning sign that you are in fact in labor. Since this is preterm labor, your baby is not ready to be born into the world yet, and this can be life-threatening to him or her. Pay attention to the amniotic fluid that has came out to see if it is clear or colored. A brownish or yellowish brown can be an indication that your baby has passed meconium in the womb. Get help immediately, regardless of the presence of meconium, but make sure you notify the physician or 9-1-1 operator that it is present. This is life-threatening to your baby.

The contractions you feel during preterm labor will not be alleviated by rest, warm soaks, or fluid intake. If you have tried these means of stopping the contractions and nothing works, it is in fact labor and you need to seek immediate medical attention. Only a physician can try to stop your labor at this time. You will require hospitalization and medication, and careful monitoring of both you and the baby. Please note that while there are medications available to stop preterm labor, they do not always work. Sometimes labor will progress no matter what your doctor tries.

If you were planning a homebirth, you may have to opt for a hospital delivery if you are in preterm labor. Midwives do not take on high-risk labor and deliveries, and they cannot safely stop your labor at home. This event, if occurring, does not mean you have failed or that you are a bad mother. All this means is that your body, for whatever reason(s), has decided to begin the labor process early.

The difference between Braxton Hicks and preterm labor can be summed up by remembering that Braxton Hicks will not have a pattern, do not cause dilatation, and stop with rest, soaking, or fluids, and preterm labor will go on to develop a pattern, will cause you to dilate, and do not stop without medical intervention. It is stressed that if you do recognize that you are in preterm labor, you need to get medical help immediately for the welfare of you and your baby.

If you get medical attention and your labor still doesn’t stop, try to take comfort in knowing that with advances in medical care, more and more preemies are surviving every day. There are also more mothers surviving preterm labor than years ago. If your baby does require intensive care, be there as much as you can to encourage him or her to get well. It has been proven that babies born early benefit and get better faster when they have the love, encouragement, support, and care of their families.