Braxton Hicks Contractions

You’ve probably heard about Braxton-Hicks contractions and are wondering how you will be able to tell Braxton-Hicks contractions (or what some people call “false labor”) from the real thing.

The first—and most important—thing you should know is that it is essential to play it safe and not try to make a diagnosis yourself. If you’re experiencing what you believe to be more than four contractions in an hour, or you have any other signs of labor, call your caregiver immediately.

5 Frequently Asked Questions about Braxton-Hicks Contractions

  1. What are Braxton-Hicks contractions?

Braxton-Hicks contractions are sporadic uterine contractions that can start about six weeks into your pregnancy, although you won’t be able to feel them that early. They are one of your body’s ways of preparing for birth. You probably won’t start to notice them until sometime after mid-pregnancy, if you notice them at all. They get their name from John Braxton Hicks, who in 1872, was able to officially recognize the difference between false contraction and real contractions.

  1. What do they feel like?

During Braxton-Hicks contractions, you’ll feel the muscles of your uterus tighten for 30 to 60 seconds before they relax. Sometimes, the contractions can last up to two minutes. Unlike “real” contractions, Braxton-Hicks contractions are usually unpredictable, non-rhythmic and lack intensity and frequency. The sensation is more uncomfortable than painful. If the contractions you experience intensify or become more frequent you may be experiencing real labor.

To determine if you are having preterm contractions or “real” labor watch for these signs:

  • Abdominal pain, menstrual-like cramping
  • Any vaginal bleeding or spotting
  • An increase in vaginal discharge or a change in the type of discharge—if it becomes watery, mucusy, or bloody (even if it’s only pink or blood-tinged)
  • More pressure in the pelvic area (a feeling that your baby’s pushing down)
  • Low back pain, especially if it’s dull or rhythmic, or you didn’t previously have back pain
  1. Why do Braxton-Hicks contractions occur?

Although scientists and physicians still don’t know exactly why Braxton-Hicks contractions occur, many suspect that their purpose is to tone muscles in the uterus to prepare for birth and promote blood flow to the placenta. Some even think that these false contractions may play a role in softening the cervix prior to labor.

  1. What triggers Braxton-Hicks contractions?

Braxton-Hicks contractions may occur randomly, or they may start up when either you or your baby is being physically active. One of the most common reasons for Braxton-Hicks contractions is dehydration. Other triggers may include someone touching your stomach, having a full bladder or having sexual intercourse.

  1. How can I alleviate Braxton-Hicks contractions?

You can try to alleviate Braxton-Hicks contractions by:

  • Drinking a few glasses of water
  • Taking a warm bath for no more than 30 minutes
  • Drinking a warm glass of milk or herbal tea
  • Changing your body position—for example if you’re lying down, get up and walk around, or lie down if you’ve just spent time being physically active

We are dedicated to providing you with the information, individual care and attention you need so that you can relax and focus on what is most important—the birth of your baby.