This article title presents a very interesting question, but one which is exceedingly difficult to answer. It is supremely hard to describe a physical sensation to one who has yet to feel it for herself, but I’ll give it a try.
According to the Merck Medical Manual, Braxton-Hicks contractions are essentially “practice” for real labor. The majority of pregnant women experience them during the latter part of their third trimester, and they are often confused with the real thing, which contributes to the many instances of false labor that show up in hospitals around the country.
Both Braxton-Hicks and the real deal consist of the involuntary contraction of the abdominal and pelvic muscles in preparation to push the fetus through the birth canal into life. The differences between the two represent matters of degree and progression. Braxton-Hicks contractions tend to recur at a set interval and fixed intensity, whereas the real ones-once the baby is really coming-occur at ever shorter intervals and become stronger as labor progresses. In other words, Braxton-Hicks contractions might happen every hour, or half hour, or fifteen minutes, but the time between each contraction will not vary by more than a minute or two.
As Braxton-Hicks contractions do not happen closer and closer together, they also differ from true labor in that they stay the same in intensity. Braxton-Hicks practice for true labor, but they clench the same muscles to the same degree each time. True labor ups the ante with each clench.
Before I continue, I want to assure any first time mothers who may read this that it is worth it. We all have our particular sensitivites where discomfort is concerned, but we also have epidurals and C-sections. Today’s mother can deliver a drug free baby without the pain of natural childbirth. But even natural childbirth will not scare you away from having more. I do not have the article handy to cite it properly, but I read in Scientific American Mind that the maternal brain produces a peculiar hormone that causes her to forget the pain associated with childbirth. I promise from my own experience that this is true!
I remember going into labor, and I remember what it felt like. But when I remember actually giving birth to my son, I can hear conversation between me, his father, and the medical staff, but I cannot recall the feel of any pain. Honestly, your brain erases the pain. I’d much rather have a kid a day than to let a dentist stick a drill in my mouth.
So, you want to know what they feel like? Hmm. The best word I can come up with is “twinge.” Braxton-Hicks tend -or at least mine did- to feel like the slight tightening of your back muscles, like when you lay on the floor and do leg lifts. I mean the ones where you hold your heels six inches off the floor, and your back and abdominal muscles go tight. Imagine having that sensation while driving in your car. That’s a Braxton-Hicks contraction.
How do you distinguish them from the real deal? That’s probably another article, but here’s a bonus: when you really begin labor, you’ll just know. Honest.