In your early 3rd trimester, you may notice your uterus suddenly feeling tight and hard. This can be caused by “practice contractions” or Braxton-Hicks contractions. They’re usually painless but sometimes can be fairly uncomfortable (not wickedly painful) and they may kick up more when you’re active and then calm down when you rest. They also can appear more often in the evening, especially if you’re dehydrated – so keep chugging that water.
How can you tell if these contractions are false labor or the real thing? Here are some general guidelines. In false labor, Braxton-Hicks contractions occur irregularly, they don’t get closer over time. The contractions may stop when you walk, change position or rest. In false labor, the contractions are relatively weak and stay that way, or there may be a few strong ones followed by weak ones. In false labor, pain usually is felt in the lower abdomen and groin.
In true labor, the contractions will start forming a pattern, coming at regular intervals, getting closer together and lasting 30-90 seconds. Be sure to time any contractions you have if they persist. True labor contractions won’t go away, no matter what you do. The contractions will get steadily stronger. The pain from these contractions usually starts in the back and wraps around to the front.
OK, all that being said, there are lots of us who don’t follow these generalizations. With both of my labors, I never felt any pain in my back – for Anne, that’s all she felt! Painful contractions don’t always signal true labor and painless ones aren’t always false. Oh, and what you experienced in your first pregnancy may not be at all what you experience with a second one. So, if you’re having some kind of contractions and think you might be in labor at any time during your pregnancy, call your doc or midwife. Call especially if your water breaks, you have vaginal bleeding, you’re in constant pain with no relief, you have fever or chills, or the baby seems to be moving less.