Braxton Hicks Contractions: What Are They?

Braxton Hicks Contractions Compared to Real Contractions

Towards the end of your pregnancy, it’s normal to wonder how you’ll know when you’re in labor. It can be especially confusing if you experience contractions in the second or third trimester that go away without leading to labor. These are called Braxton Hicks contractions, and they're one of the ways your body gets ready for labor.

What Are Braxton Hicks Contractions?

Also known as “false” or “practice” contractions, Braxton Hicks contractions (which are named for the doctor who first identified them) are not actual labor contractions, but they are caused by the muscles of the uterus tightening, just as real labor contractions are. Knowing what Braxton Hicks contractions feel like can help you determine whether you’re experiencing practice or real labor contractions when they occur. False contractions typically feel like a tight squeezing of the abdomen or like familiar menstrual cramps.

You don’t necessarily need to do anything if you feel Braxton Hicks contractions. Taking a walk, resting, or changing positions might help them go away, but each woman's experience is different.

Braxton Hicks vs. True Labor Contractions

If your pregnancy isn’t yet full term, you might worry you’re going into preterm labor at the first sign of a contraction. You might also wonder whether the contraction you’re feeling is another Braxton Hicks or if it’s finally the real deal.

To help sort this out, you'll want to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of labor and to keep these Braxton Hicks symptoms in mind:

  • False contractions are irregular and do not get closer together in time. A good way to double-check is to time the contractions
  • False contractions are weak and don’t get stronger, or they start strong, but then get weaker. However, as your due date approaches, stronger and more frequent Braxton Hicks contractions may occur.
  • Practice contractions stop when you walk, rest, or change positions.
  • You feel the discomfort of the contractions at the front of your abdomen. (True contractions can start at the back and move toward the front of your abdomen.)

How long do Braxton Hicks last? Typically, each contraction will last between 30 seconds and 2 minutes. They are more likely to occur in the afternoon or evening or after vigorous physical activity.

Call your healthcare provider if you’re in doubt about what you're experiencing, or if you notice any of the following:

  • Contractions continue even if you move around.
  • Contractions come at regular intervals, and get stronger and more frequent over time.
  • Vaginal bleeding.
  • Fluid leaks or gushes from your vagina.

You might be wondering: do Braxton Hicks hurt? Although these false contractions are completely normal, Braxton Hicks contractions can sometimes be painful, so contact your provider for advice if you feel any pain.

When Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Start to Happen?

Usually, they start in the third trimester though you might notice them in the second trimester, as well. Braxton Hicks contractions may begin a little earlier if this is not your first pregnancy.

Braxton Hicks contractions can cause a little discomfort, but they’re a completely normal part of pregnancy, and they’re helping your body prepare for the big day when you actually go into labor. To help you feel even more prepared, read up on comfort measures during labor, and check out what to expect right after the birth of your baby.

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