Regular contractions may mean that your uterine muscle is
tightening (Braxton Hicks contractions) or that you are in labor. It may be
hard to tell the difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and true labor.
If there is any doubt, call your doctor.
Braxton Hicks contractions
During the second and
third trimesters of pregnancy, you may have episodes when your belly tightens
and becomes firm to the touch, then relaxes. These are episodes of tightening
(contraction) of the uterine muscles called Braxton Hicks contractions. These
normal contractions may be mild, or they may be strong enough to make you stop
what you are doing.
Braxton Hicks contractions can begin as early
as the 20th week of pregnancy, but most often they start between the 28th and
Braxton Hicks contractions can occur often during the
9th month, such as every 10 to 20 minutes.
- Usually go away during exercise or activity.
True labor pains continue or increase with activity.
- Are felt more
The length of a normal pregnancy is 37
to 42 weeks, measured from the date of the woman's last menstrual period.
Preterm labor occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy. Before 20 weeks,
preterm labor that leads to delivery is a
miscarriage (spontaneous abortion).
Preterm labor is diagnosed in a woman who is 20 to 37 weeks pregnant and
has regular uterine contractions. This means 4 or more in 20 minutes, or about
8 or more in 1 hour.
Call your doctor if you have had regular
contractions for an hour, even after you have had a glass of water and are
Early labor is often the longest part of
the birthing process, sometimes lasting 2 to 3 days. Uterine
- Are mild to moderate and last about 30 to 45
seconds. You can keep talking during these contractions.
- May be
irregular, about 5 to 20 minutes apart, and may even stop for a while.
In early labor, the
cervix opens (dilates) to about
3 cm (1.2 in.).
First-time mothers may have many hours of early labor without the cervix
dilating. You may go to the hospital and be sent home again until you begin
active labor or your water breaks (rupture of the membranes).