Are you in labor — or is it false labor, known as Braxton Hicks contractions? Here are the differences between the causes and signs of Braxton Hicks vs. contractions.

By Editors of Parents
Tomsickova Tatyana/Shutterstock

As your body gets ready for the big delivery, your uterus will start prepping too. Braxton Hicks contractions are like fire drills: They are a way for your uterus to practice and prepare for true labor. And in case you’re wondering, they were named for the 19th-century English doctor John Braxton Hicks, who first "discovered" them.

These mild contractions generally don’t cause actual pain, but feel more like a hardening or tightening of the uterus. Braxton Hicks usually last for 30 seconds to 2 minutes and begin in the second trimester, around 20 weeks. However, they may come earlier (and be more intense) if you’ve been pregnant before. 

Get to know the symptoms of Braxton Hicks vs. labor contractions so you're prepared when they hit:

Braxton Hicks Symptoms

The biggest difference is that Braxton Hicks contractions happen irregularly — they’re very sporadic and don’t occur in a regular pattern, the way real contractions do. They 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.

Braxton Hicks contractions tend to feel more intense and happen more often as pregnancy progresses, and may occur more often after exercise or intercourse. They can also happen if you’re doing too much and get dehydrated.

If you find the contractions uncomfortable, do your best to relax when they strike. Try lying down and relaxing, or getting up and walking around, and practice your breathing exercises until they pass.

    Labor Symptoms

    If your contractions are occurring regularly — every 10 minutes or more than 6 per hour — you may be in labor and should call your doctor right away.

    Here are other signs that you are not just having Braxton Hicks contractions, and that it's time to grab your hospital bag:

    • They're getting stronger as time goes on. Braxton Hicks won't get more intense as time goes on, and are often described as more uncomfortable than down-right unbearable. But labor pains definitely progress.
    • The contractions keep coming, even after you put your feet up and drink big glasses of water.
    • The tightening of your uterus is accompanied by back, pelvic, or abdominal pain or cramps.
    • You have unusual vaginal discharge or you think your water broke.
    • You're pretty close to your due date. Braxton Hicks can occur at any time, but they're more common earlier in the last trimester, as your body begins the final countdown to birth day.
    • Your doctor thinks it's go time. If you've checked in with your doc and he says to hit the hospital, then you may be seeing your new little one in just a few short hours!

    Parents Magazine

    Comments (1)

    August 12, 2019
    Be careful: if your contractions (with some level of pain) are regular (less than 30min apart) and last for more than 3 hours, go consult your gynae immediately. We were 25 weeks pregnant and had Braxton Hicks contractions every 5 to 15 minutes. Lucky we went to hospital immediately as this could have turned into a dramatic premature delivery. This article is not providing sufficient heads-up to young parents.