Most pregnant people experience Braxton Hicks, which are false contractions that prepare the body for delivery. Find out what factors influence when they begin.

By Holly Pevzner
Updated August 24, 2020
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| Credit: Westend61/Getty Images

Braxton Hicks are “false” contractions that happen when your body rehearses for delivery. They occur sporadically and last anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes. Most women describe them as a “tightening” or “hardening” sensation in the uterus, and they’re usually more uncomfortable than painful. Unlike true labor pains, they don't become longer or more intense over time.

Are you wondering when to expect Braxton Hicks contractions in a pregnancy? It’s hard to say with certainty, because the timeline depends on many factors. Indeed, some pregnant people experience many false contractions each day, while others never detect them at all. That said, here are some general guidelines for when Braxton Hicks tend to start.

Braxton Hicks contractions begin around 20 weeks. In general, Braxton Hicks contractions start around 20 weeks of gestation, which falls in the second trimester. But many women can’t feel Braxton Hicks until later in the third trimester. They'll usually stick around until you give birth.

They’re usually more intense in subsequent pregnancies. Are you pregnant with your second (or third, or fourth…) baby? Braxton Hicks contractions may come earlier and feel more intense. This might be because your uterine muscles have already stretched out from previous pregnancies.

Certain activities can trigger them. Experts aren’t entirely sure what causes these false contractions, but they tend to get worse from sex, dehydration, exercise, or a full bladder. Drinking water, changing positions, and practicing controlled breathing might stop them in their tracks.

They might come at night. Some women notice that Braxton Hicks contractions occur most often at night—possibly because moms-to-be are more relaxed and observant. Also, you might have a full bladder or be sexually active at night (both of which can trigger Braxton Hicks).

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