Think of Braxton Hicks contractions as fire drills: They are not a sign that labor is imminent; they are a way for your body to prepare for labor. These mild, cramplike contractions -- which feel like a squeezing or tightening of the uterus -- begin during the second half of pregnancy. They occur irregularly and usually last for 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Braxton Hicks contractions are named for the doctor who first described them.
Braxton Hicks contractions differ from woman to woman and from pregnancy to pregnancy. Some women have them several times a day; others don't seem to have them at all. They may occur more often after exercise or intercourse. They tend to feel more intense and happen more often as pregnancy progresses.
It's important not to confuse Braxton Hicks contractions with real labor contractions. Braxton Hicks contractions do not occur in a regular pattern, whereas real contractions do. If contractions occur regularly -- every 10 minutes or more than 6 per hour -- you may be in labor. Call your doctor right away.
Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.
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