The uterus is a pretty impressive, muscular, organ. 

  • It provides a safe, nourishing environment for your baby during pregnancy. 
  • It increases in size from about the size of a fist to the size of a watermelon to accommodate your growing baby.
  • During labour, the muscular layer of the uterus tightens to open the cervix (the neck of the uterus) and help the baby move through the birth canal (vagina) and be born. Each time the uterine muscle tightens it’s called a contraction. 

The uterus has got quite a lot to flex about, really. 

In case you forget how incredible your uterus is during the course of pregnancy, it may remind you with practice contractions, also known as Braxton Hicks contractions or “false” labour.  

Practice contractions are the body’s way of preparing for labour, but don’t necessarily mean true labour has started or is going to start soon. 

They begin in early pregnancy, but are often only felt in the third trimester. 

Some people never feel them, even though they are happening, while others become aware of them as early as the second trimester.

You might feel practice contractions after you’ve been very active, when your bladder is full,  after sex or when you’re dehydrated. 

Some people experience them as a painless, but uncomfortable, tightening of their abdomen. They can also be painful and make you think you’re in labour, especially towards the end of your pregnancy.

Practice contractions or labour? 

So as you move (or waddle) through those final weeks of pregnancy you may become more aware of various changes in your body as it prepares for labour. But how do you tell if the not necessarily painful, but definitely uncomfortable sensations in your belly mean it’s time to call the midwife or doctor, or are just your uterus flexing?

  • Labour contractions usually come at regular intervals and get closer together as labour progresses. Practice contractions don’t have a clear pattern. 
  • Labour contractions will continue if you rest, move around or change positions. Practice contractions stop when you rest and hydrate.
  • Labour contractions are usually more intense and get stronger as labour progresses. Practice contractions tend to be more uncomfortable than painful (although they can be painful) and don’t get stronger over time. 

Ultimately, practice contractions don’t cause the cervix to dilate in preparation for the baby to be born.

If you’re experiencing uncomfortable practice contractions, especially after a busy day, take some time out to rest, if you’re able to, and make sure you’re drinking enough water. 

If you feel unsure about any abdominal discomfort or pain you’re experiencing while pregnant, get in touch with your care provider.