Here's how you can tell if you're feeling Braxton Hicks contractions—or if the pain in your belly means that Baby is on the way.

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Loreanto/Shutterstock
| Credit: Loreanto/Shutterstock

Almost all women get Braxton Hicks contractions at some point during pregnancy, though you probably won't be able to feel them until you're more than 20 weeks along. These sporadic contractions are your body's way of practicing for labor, and they can even do some of the early work in helping your cervix start to soften

Braxton Hicks contractions feel distinctly different from true labor contractions—but first-time moms may struggle to tell them apart. Here's what to expect with Braxton Hicks contractions, and how to know when it's time to head to the hospital. 

Braxton Hicks resemble menstrual cramps. 

Braxton Hicks contractions feel like random period cramps—a sudden tightening or hardening in your belly. The sensation is usually more uncomfortable than painful. Unlike actual labor pains, Braxton Hicks don't get more intense over time.

They're sporadic and irregular. 

These "false" contractions refuse to follow any predictable pattern; they occur randomly and sporadically. Some women experience the contractions several times each day, while others never detect Braxton Hicks while pregnant. On the other hand, real labor contractions will come regularly, occurring more often and feeling stronger each time.

They last less than two minutes.

Braxton Hicks contractions usually last between 30 seconds and two minutes. Some moms notice them later in the day—possibly because they're more relaxed and in tune with their bodies.

Braxton Hicks might change with each pregnancy.

Detectable Braxton Hicks contractions can begin as early as the second trimester, around 20 weeks, but they are most commonly experienced in the third trimester. But during pregnancy number two (or three, or four...), they may kick in earlier and be more intense. The pregnancy professionals are still scratching their heads about why this happens.

Sex, exercise, and dehydration can trigger them.

Having intercourse during the second half of pregnancy may trigger false contractions. It seems that orgasms and the prostaglandins in semen can kick off these temporary uterine sensations. Braxton Hicks may also get worse from exercising or dehydration, so if they hit, you can also try drinking some water and resting for a little while.

Movement might stop the contractions.

When the pain strikes, get up and move around. Shifting your movement patterns can often put an end to Braxton Hicks contractions (real contractions can't be quelled like that). You can also try test-driving the breathing exercises you're learning for labor in your childbirth classes.

Braxton Hicks aren't accompanied by other symptoms.

When you're in labor, you'll probably experience a host of other symptoms, such as unusual vaginal discharge, abdominal pain or cramps, backaches, and water breaking. None of these happen with Braxton Hicks contractions.

They feel the same for pregnancy with multiples.

What do Braxton Hicks feel like with twins, triplets, or more babies? Experts claim they feel the same as singleton pregnancies—like a random tightening or hardening of the uterus that lasts less than two minutes. However, pregnancies with multiples are associated with a higher risk for preterm labor, so make sure you don't mistake Braxton Hicks for the real deal.