When Do Labor Pains Start? How Long Is the Interval Between Contractions?

Labor: you might have deliberately put it at the back of your mind. But here comes the third trimester and you can no longer pretend you don’t have to face them – labor contractions and labor pains. What should you know about labor pains and the intervals, how long it takes for Braxton Hicks contractions to progress into true labor contractions, and what the differences between the two?

Labor pains: Differentiating real labor contractions from Braxton Hicks contractions

pregnant woman labor pain

Labor contractions, although said to be painful beyond description, feel as if your uterus is trying to squeeze your baby out. Painful contractions aren’t just limited to labor, and in preparation for the true labor contractions, the contractions in the uterus start sometime near the start of the final month and gradually become stronger. Note that the contractions you feel before the start of the labor contractions are different, and they’re termed Braxton Hicks contractions.

What are true labor contractions

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Labor contractions are the contractions in the muscles of the uterus in order to push the baby out of the womb. The cervix dilates (widens) and the uterus contracts aggressively. True labor contractions are divided into 3 stages. The first stage is the stage in which the cervix dilates and the uterus prepares for labor and delivery. The stage in which the baby is delivered is the second stage, while the third stage of labor refers to the delivery of the placenta.

The most painful stage is the second stage – when the peak of the labor contractions occur and when the baby is delivered.

Getting yourself down to the hospital when the Braxton Hicks contractions start doesn’t mean you get to deliver your baby immediately – you have to wait for the real labor contractions. What you have to note is the intervals and the duration of the Braxton Hicks contractions.

How long does it take for Braxton Hicks to progress into true contractions

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True labor contractions come at regular intervals, so the pain that comes with them is also regular. What is characteristic of true labor contractions is that the intervals shorten over time and you will find yourself hit by these bouts of pain more often.

The intervals could be as far apart as 30 minutes at the start and slowly shorten to 20 minutes, 10 minutes and then to about 5 minutes. Generally, it’s advisable that you head to the hospital once the intervals between contractions are as short as 10 minutes. The duration of the pain will last for about 1 minute.

The interval between the waves of pain that hits you could be shorter depending on the condition your cervix is in – to what extent it has dilated or effaced. When your cervix has completely dilated, the intervals between the pain or contractions can be as short as 2 minutes.

On the other hand, Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular and there’s no guessing when they’ll hit you next. As Braxton Hicks contractions might not be very painful, there’s a high chance that you’ll mistake it for lower abdominal pains. Braxton Hicks can go on for a long time or might not be felt at all.

These contractions might start before the last month, and after feeling them, true labor contractions can start from 2 weeks to a month later in general.

How are true labor contractions different from Braxton Hicks contractions?

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True labor contractions become stronger as labor progresses. Some moms say that if feels like their waists were being spliced open, and some felt it was more like pushing a watermelon through one’s nose. Once true labor contractions start and continue progressing, the pain increases and even changing your posture will not ease the pain or make it subside.

The pain you feel when delivering your baby will be at its peak, and although the delivery of the placenta (third stage of labor) is also painful, it will pale in comparison to the labor pains before.

Braxton Hicks contractions, unlike true labor contractions, can become stronger or weaker as time passes. Some moms feel all out of sorts or feel as if something is pressing down on them, while some simply only feel the contractions but not much pain.

Braxton Hicks contractions are special in the sense that once you change the position you’re in, the pain usually disappears. Some moms say they don’t feel any pain, and sometimes the pain from Braxton Hicks contractions might be been mistaken for pain from fetal movement.

How is pain from fetal movement different from labor pains?

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The pain from fetal movement is different from that of pains from contraction. The pain from fetal movement is usually sudden and it feels like your bladder has taken a hit. Even if the fetal movement is aggressive, the pain is usually temporal and you’ll easily be able to tell it apart from true labor contractions.

However, if the aggressive and sudden pain continues and shows no sign of abating, and if contractions continue, go to a hospital because the pain could actually point to a placental abruption or uterine rupture.

Cross the bridge when you come to labor pains

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When you’re having contractions and doubling over in pain, it might be difficult to tell what type of contractions you’re experiencing. Instead of agonizing over what they might mean, you might want to call your practitioner and go down for a check up.

Even if the pains aren’t true labor pains, it’s alright to jump the gun and find out they’re NOT labor pains! It might then be easier for you to imagine what the labor pains might just be like. There is no need to feel too anxious about labor contractions and pains – since you have to face it when it comes, cross the bridge when you come to it, and focus on readying your heart instead.