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The third trimester of pregnancy is filled with anticipation! You can go into labor anywhere between 38 and 42 weeks, and may even go a little early.

By the time you get to this stage of pregnancy, you will already be very familiar with Braxton Hicks contractions. The fact remains that these can get stronger as you approach your due date, and that they can even be a little painful. How do you know if you are in labor or just having some extra heavy Braxton Hicks contractions? 

How do you know it isn't Braxton Hicks?

Despite what some sources say, there is no doubt that Braxton Hicks contractions can indeed get stronger during the last stages of a pregnancy. These "practice contractions" started at around 10 weeks, but you probably didn't notice them at first. As your pregnancy went on, you came to know Braxton Hicks contractions as a phenomenon that made your belly feel hard, but that cleared up as soon as you moved. Many women experience more Braxton Hicks contractions when they are involved in a physically strenuous activity, or having sex. The nature of Braxton Hicks contractions does change as a pregnancy progresses. Those harmless uterine contractions can even cause a bit of pain, and they may well have you wondering if you are experiencing active labor. Almost every woman will ask herself whether she is in labor a few times before the actual event.

So, how can you tell the difference? The "old rules" for Braxton Hicks contractions still hold true. A real labor contraction will continue regardless of what you do. A Braxton Hicks contraction is likely to stop with a simple change of position. Braxton Hicks contractions come at unpredictable intervals, while labor contractions follow a real pattern they start off being fairly painless, short, and tend to come with long intervals at the beginning. As you move into active labor, the contractions becoming more painful and get closer together as well as longer. The basic indication of real labor is that labor contractions keep on coming, and that they get longer and closer together as your labor continues. When your contractions have been coming every four minutes, and last for at least a minute, you can be very sure that you are in active labor. There are also other indications that come with labor contractions. Your bag of waters may break, and you are likely to lose your mucus plug anywhere from about a day before you go into labor, to an hour before.

A tale of two labors

I remember being very pregnant with my first baby, and basically waiting to give birth at any time. My own mother had given birth to me two weeks early, so for some reason I expected my first baby to be a little premature as well. By the time I reached 38 weeks, I was really impressed that I had made it that far, quite desperate, and browsing the web for stories written by other women daily. Was this labor? What are the early signs of labor? When will I (finally) go into labor? Of course, I was quite aware of the facts. I was just on maternity leave, bored, and wondering when this baby would show up already. I loved reading other moms' personal stories, and that is why I am sharing my own here too. Every time I had Braxton Hicks contractions quite close together, I would phone my mom and ask her if this could really be it. It wasn't. With my first baby, my first actual sign of labor was... the immense and very urgent sense that I needed to iron my baby daughter's baby clothes.

That happened in the middle of the night. I had lots of contractions when that happened, but they were not rhythmical enough to think I was in active labor. I did lose my mucus plug that night. I was convinced that I would be woken up by contractions during the night, but I wasn't. My contractions did pick up in the morning, and my baby was born in the evening that next day. My second baby was a whole different story. I went wondered if the contractions I was having were labor at midnight, and my baby was born a few hours later. In both cases, my membranes ruptured shortly before the baby's actual birth. Contractions progressed in a nice, orderly fashion from short ones that were mild, to heavy and long ones. Subsequent babies can take you by surprise, and moms should be aware of that.

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