6 Ways to Tell the Difference Between Gas or Contractions

Wondering if that discomfort in your abdomen is gas or contractions? Read on to find out if it's gas pain—or go time!

Your growing baby can definitely impact your digestive system. First, there's morning sickness. Then, as your changing hormones disrupt or slow the digestive process and your baby starts to grow larger, displacing other body parts out of the way, you may end up with gas, indigestion, constipation, and a whole host of other unsavory issues.

But as your due date approaches, it can be hard to distinguish between gas and contractions. As in, are you in labor or is that bean burrito just not sitting right? Learn more about how to know if that uncomfortable feeling in your belly is your baby signaling their impending arrival—or simply your lunch causing trouble. Here are some tips to help you figure out if you're having contractions or gas. And keep in mind: when in doubt, always call a doctor, especially if you are experiencing any type of new discomfort or pain during pregnancy. Every person is different, so if something feels off—especially if you are before 37 weeks pregnant or are high-risk—call your doctor for advice.

3 Signs You're Probably Having Contractions

While the pain of early labor contractions can mimic gas pain, there are some key ways to tell them apart. You're likely having contractions if your abdominal discomfort includes the following characteristics.

1. Your discomfort has a rhythm

Contractions come in waves—starting off milder before hitting a peak then becoming more mild again—with breaks in between them, while gas pain is more constant. "You develop a pattern with labor contractions, where they're coming every four to five minutes and progressively getting stronger," says Paul du Treil, M.D., an OB-GYN and director of maternal and child health at Touro Infirmary in New Orleans. So, break out the stopwatch and find out if the pain is coming at regular intervals. If not (and the pain is more constant), it's more likely to be gas than labor.

2. Your belly tightens up

Labor pains involve a big muscle contraction from your uterus. "There's an uncomfortable tightening in the stomach during labor, where the whole stomach feels hard," says Dr. du Treil. If your tummy hardens every time you're experiencing pain and then softens afterward, it's likely a contraction, not gas. On the other hand, with gas, your belly may feel full or bloated but the muscles won't be tightening in intervals.

3. There's more happening "down there"

True labor contractions usually come with a host of other symptoms. "Bloody mucus or a change in vaginal discharge increases the likelihood that it's real labor and not a false alarm," says Bart Putterman, M.D., an OB-GYN at Texas Children's Pavilion for Women in Houston. If you don't notice any other labor symptoms besides abdominal pain, your discomfort is more likely to be due to gas or other digestive issues.

Young Pregnant Woman Standing Holding Back
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3 Signs It Could Be Gas Pain

Gas pain is common during pregnancy due to the influx of hormones and the pressure your growing baby puts on your digestive tract. So, if you're wondering whether it's gas or labor pain you're experiencing, in the absence of the unique characteristics of contractions, you're probably experiencing gas. If you're still not sure, contact your medical provider and look for these signs.

1. The pain is irregular and sharp

Gas will come and go on an irregular schedule. The accompanying pain will often be sharper than that of contractions, which are characterized by an all-over ache. You may also feel bloated in your tummy with gas.

2. You've eaten gas-inducing food

Thanks to the squeeze your baby is putting on your digestive system, any foods can be gas-inducing culprits during pregnancy. But certain items like fried, greasy, and spicy dishes can amp up the gas. And though cruciferous veggies such as cauliflower and broccoli and high-fiber foods like beans may be loaded with baby-growing nutrients, they're prime candidates for loading your digestive system with gas, too. Onions, garlic, and carbonated beverages are also known to cause that uncomfortable tummy feeling. If the gas pains continue, consider reducing gas-inducing goodies in your diet until your baby arrives.

3. Going to the bathroom brings relief

Typically, gas pains resolve themselves pretty quickly once you relieve yourself in the bathroom. If a restroom visit helps, it probably means that the baby is hanging out in your uterus for a little while longer. Additionally, moving your body, such as by going on a walk or doing light stretches, may also help to ease gas pains, but won't stop true labor contractions. In fact, most contractions will increase no matter what you are doing, so that's almost always a sign it's contractions over gas.

The Bottom Line

While gas and early labor contractions can produce similar feelings of discomfort, once you know what to look for it can be fairly easy to tell them apart. However, if you're unsure, contact your OB-GYN or midwife for guidance. If you're having contractions, you'll probably be heading to the hospital or birthing center soon. If it's gas, your medical provider can offer suggestions or treatment options to help ease your pain.

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