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Am I In Labour?

Updated: 3 days ago

At 38 weeks with our first pregnancy, I can recall the thrill and excitement of experiencing the first few contractions right before bedtime. The night previous, I lost my mucous plug. Could this mean I'm in labour?!? Our friend, a midwife, who was staying with us at the time, calmly suggested I ignore these sensations. It wasn't that she was rude or dismissive, it was simply that she had a wisdom that I now understand; 'distract yourself until you can't anymore.'

What started as manageable contractions that I could 'try' to distract myself from, slowly became what I now know as 'true labour'.

But how do you know the difference between practice and true labour contractions? How will you know when labour starts?

Let's break it down!

Braxton Hicks (Practice Contractions)

Braxton Hicks, AKA 'practice contractions' are the body's way of preparing for true labour but don't suggest that labour has begun or is going to start.

Because Braxton Hicks contractions tend to increase in frequency near the end of the pregnancy, it can get exhausting and frustrating when you're told it's not 'true labour'.

Rest assured, these practice contractions play a role in promoting blood flow to the placenta, toning the uterine muscle and softening the cervix in preparation for labour.

Braxton Hicks contractions are present in all pregnancies, however, each individual is unique in when they experience them. Braxton Hicks can start as early as 6 weeks gestation but usually aren't felt until the second or third trimester.

Unlike true labour contractions, Braxton Hicks are sporadic and don't follow any type of pattern and may be uncomfortable, but not painful. Some would describe Braxton Hicks contractions as feeling like mild menstrual cramps or a tightening in a specific area of the abdomen that comes and goes.

Certain circumstances can trigger Braxton Hicks contractions including increased activity, a full bladder, sexual activity, and dehydration.

The best way to determine if the sensations you're feeling are practice contractions or true labour is to do this test:

  1. Try changing positions. If your contractions slow down or stop, it is probably Braxton Hicks.

  2. Try emptying your bladder. A full bladder can cause contractions and once emptied, contractions should ease.

  3. Drink a glass of water

  4. Get in a warm bath. Warm water can relax your body and can cause Braxton Hicks to ease

  5. Rest! Try going to sleep and ignore them. If you wake up and they're gone, you know they were Braxton Hicks. If you continue to get woken up by regular contractions, then chances are it's true labour.

True Labour Contractions

When labour starts, contractions will become increasingly longer, stronger and closer together.

  1. Longer- Contractions will last 40-60+ seconds long

  2. Stronger- Contractions can be felt in your entire abdomen and have a 'wrapping' sensation that can be felt in the lower back and thighs. This pain doesn't go away when you move or change positions.

  3. Closer together- Contractions will start to follow a pattern, becoming increasingly closer together

The best thing you can do when you feel contractions is to ignore them, until you can't ignore them any longer.

Grab some water, take a bath, get some rest and breathe. Your labour will start. You WILL have this baby. No one is pregnant forever ; )

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