What Are Braxton Hicks Contractions? Causes, Symptoms, and Pain Relief

Braxton Hicks are sporadic “false” contractions that prepare your body for delivery. Here are the differences between Braxton Hicks and true labor contractions.

Braxton Hicks contractions are like fire drills: They help your body prepare for true labor. These sporadic "false" contractions usually feel like a tightening and hardening of the uterus, and they last between 30 seconds and two minutes. Get to know the difference between Braxton Hicks and real contractions so you're prepared when they hit.

Braxton Hicks Contraction
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Braxton Hicks Symptoms

Braxton Hicks are mild contractions that don't cause actual pain. Your baby bump might tighten up, become hard, then go back to normal. The sensation, which might resemble menstrual cramps, usually lasts between 30 seconds and two minutes.

Braxton Hicks contractions happen irregularly; they're very sporadic and don't occur in a pattern, the way real contractions do. Some people have them several times a day; others don't seem to have them at all. Most people notice Braxton Hicks contractions in the second trimester around 20 weeks—but they may come earlier (and be more intense) if you've been pregnant before.

What Causes Braxton Hicks Contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions happen when the uterus "rehearses" for delivery. Experts believe they may actually do some of the early work of labor by helping to soften and dilate your cervix.

Many people can't pinpoint exactly what triggers their Braxton Hicks contractions. However, they tend to feel more intense and happen more often as pregnancy progresses. Some people notice them more after exercise and intercourse, or if they're dehydrated.

Braxton Hicks contractions also frequently appear at the end of the day, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. It's thought that once the hustle-and-bustle of the day calms down, parents-to-be are simply more apt to tune into these mild contractions.

What's the Difference Between Braxton Hicks and Labor Contractions?

While Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular and sporadic, labor contractions have a consistent pattern. If your contractions are occurring regularly—every 10 minutes or more than six times 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 provider and they say to hit the hospital, then you may be seeing your new little one in just a few short hours!

Braxton Hicks Pain Relief

Braxton Hicks contractions only last between 30 seconds and two minutes. If you find the contractions uncomfortable, do your best to calm down when they strike. Try lying down and relaxing, or getting up and walking around, and practice your breathing exercises until they pass.

Since dehydration may be a contributing factor to false labor, downing plenty of fluids can help put the kibosh on Braxton Hicks. Just don't forget to pee regularly, because having a too-full bladder can also trigger these false contractions.

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