What Are Braxton Hicks Contractions and How Do They Feel?

Are you in labor—or is it false labor, known as Braxton Hicks contractions? Find out the differences between the signs of Braxton Hicks and the real thing.
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What is Braxton Hicks?

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. These mild contractions usually don’t cause actual pain, but feel more like a hardening or tightening of the uterus that lasts for 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Braxton Hicks usually begin in the second trimester, around 20 weeks, although they may come earlier (and be more intense) if you’ve been pregnant before. They may do some of the preliminary work of thinning and dilating your cervix.  In case you’re wondering, they were named for the 19th-century English doctor John Braxton Hicks, who first "discovered" them.

Braxton Hicks vs. Contractions

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. They tend to feel more intense and happen more often as pregnancy progresses, and may occur more often after exercise or intercourse. 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. If contractions occur regularly—every 10 minutes or more than 6 per hour—you may be in labor and should call your doctor right away.

What are Braxton Hicks? Moms know. But when we asked these non-parents to define it, the results were hilarious.

Here are other signs that you are not just having Braxton Hicks contractions, and that it's time to grab your bag and get ready to meet your baby..

  • 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. Braxton Hicks contractions can happen if you’re doing too much and get dehydrated.
  • 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!

When it comes to contractions, not knowing what to expect can be scary. Learn more about when contractions occur and be prepared for when they do.

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