How can I tell if I'm having Braxton Hicks contractions?

Q: How can I tell if I'm having Braxton Hicks contractions?

A: Braxton Hicks contractions feel like period cramps -- a sudden tightening or hardening feeling in your belly. Almost all women get them at some point during pregnancy, though you probably won't be able to feel them until you're more than 20 weeks along. They tend to ramp up as your due date approaches. These sporadic contractions are your body's way of practicing for labor, and can even do some of the early work in helping your cervix start to dilate. When the pain strikes, get up and move around, which sometimes gets contractions to stop, or try test-driving the breathing exercises you're learning for labor in your childbirth classes. The cramps can be triggered by dehydration, so you can also try drinking some water and resting for a little while. Most likely, the cramps will go away. But if they don't dissipate or seem to be getting worse, let your doctor know, since this could be a sign of preterm labor. Toward the end of your pregnancy, you may wonder whether it's Braxton Hicks contractions or the real deal. The best way to tell? Braxton Hicks occur randomly and should go away if you try the tips above. Real labor contractions will come regularly, occurring more often and feeling stronger each time.

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