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:
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.
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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:
RELATED: Signs of Approaching Labor