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Braxton Hicks Contractions

In the late 1800s, doctors and midwives struggled to name these sporadic uterine contractions that were confusing expectant mothers, fooling them into thinking they were actually in labor. A British gynecologist by the name of John Braxton Hicks finally put an end to the confusion in 1872. He described them as infrequent, irregular, and painless contractions of a woman’s uterus that occurred as her due date drew closer. All women and all pregnancies are different. Some women don’t experience Braxton Hicks contractions, while others begin to feel these contractions by the time they are six weeks pregnant. Most women begin to feel these contractions in the second trimester, after which they continue until actual labor begins.

What Are Braxton Hicks Contractions?

There’s a lot of speculation about why women feel these contractions, but most experts agree that it’s the body’s way of preparing for childbirth. Braxton Hicks contractions can last anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes, occurring every 10–20 minutes after the first trimester of pregnancy. Unlike actual contractions, these are said to be “practice contractions”; there is minimal pain, no increase in intensity, and no predictability. If the contractions are coming and going, appearing and then disappearing or easing, they are probably Braxton Hicks contractions.

What Causes Braxton Hicks Contractions?

Some experts believe they play a part in building up the uterine muscle and pumping blood to the placenta. Some believe there is a connection with the softening of the cervix. There are triggers connected with Braxton Hicks contractions:

  • Dehydration
  • Full bladder
  • Intercourse
  • Someone touching your belly

The Difference Between Real Contractions and Braxton Hicks Contractions

There are signs to look for when trying to determine whether you’re experiencing false or real contractions. The first thing you should do is remember what stage you’re at in your pregnancy. If you’re still in your first or second trimester, chances are you’re dealing with Braxton Hicks contractions. If you are more than 37 weeks pregnant and you begin to feel frequent, regular, painful contractions, chances are you’re actually in labor. Braxton Hicks contractions tend to happen weeks before your due date, but if they become rhythmic, close together, and painful, they can still fool you into thinking you’re actually in labor when you’re not. The thing to remember is that during real labor, the contractions will begin to grow consistently longer, stronger, and closer together, and they are usually accompanied by pain.  By definition, real labor contractions will be accompanied by cervical change.

Treatment for Braxton Hicks Contractions

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for these contractions, but there are things you can do to help you deal with them:

  • Take a warm bath
  • Drink more water
  • Take deep breaths
  • Take a walk
  • Drink warm fluids such as herbal tea
  • Get a massage
  • Eat a small meal or snack

When You Should Seek Medical Attention

Many women feel like they are bothering their healthcare provider if their contractions turn out to be false labor. But it’s important to remember that your doctor or midwife is there for this reason. There are things to look for though, that may accompany your Braxton Hicks contractions and signal something could be wrong. If you’re experiencing contractions and have any of these symptoms, contact your healthcare provider immediately.

  • Bleeding from your vagina
  • Continuous leakage of fluids
  • Contractions that don’t go away
  • Strong contractions that happen every five minutes for at least an hour
  • Noticeable change in your baby’s movements, especially if the movements have decreased
[Page updated June 2014]