Braxton Hicks

What Are Braxton Hicks Contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions are the "false" labor pains that a pregnant woman might have before “true” labor. They’re your body's way of getting ready for the real thing. But they don’t mean labor has started or is about to begin.Before "true" labor begins, you may have "false" labor pains. These are also known as Braxton Hicks contractions. They are your body's way of getting ready for the real thing -- the day you give birth -- but they are not a sign that labor has begun or is getting ready to begin.

What Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Feel Like?

Some women describe Braxton Hicks contractions as tightening in their belly that comes and goes. Many say they feel like mild menstrual cramps. Braxton Hicks contractions may be uncomfortable, but they don’t cause labor or open your cervix.

Unlike true labor, Braxton Hicks contractions:

  • Usually aren’t painful
  • Don’t have a regular pattern
  • Don’t get closer together
  • Don’t last longer as they go on
  • Don’t get stronger over time
  • May stop when you change activities or positions
  • Are felt only in your belly
  • Taper off and disappear

You may have Braxton Hicks contractions during your third trimester of pregnancy or as early as your second trimester. They’re normal and nothing to worry about.

Triggers of Braxton Hicks Contractions

Dehydration is the most common cause of Braxton Hicks contractions. Other triggers include:

  • Illness that causes nausea or vomiting
  • The fetus’s movement
  • The mother’s activity, especially lifting something or having sex

How Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Compare With True Labor Contractions?

To figure out whether your contractions are the real thing and you're going into labor, ask yourself these questions.

How often do the contractions happen?

  • False labor: Contractions are often irregular and don’t get closer together.
  • True labor: Contractions come at regular intervals and last about 30 to 70 seconds. As time goes on, they get stronger and closer together.

Do they change when you move?

  • False labor: Contractions may stop when you walk or rest. They may go away if you change positions.
  • True labor: Contractions continue even after you move, change positions, or try to rest.

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How strong are they?

  • False labor: Contractions are usually weak and don't get much stronger. Or they may be strong at first and then get weaker.
  • True labor: Contractions get stronger at a steady pace.

Where do you feel the pain?

  • False labor: You usually feel it only in the front of your belly or pelvis.
  • True labor: Contractions may start in your lower back and move to the front of your abdomen. Or they may start in your abdomen and move to your back.

Other Abdominal Pain During Pregnancy

Sharp, shooting pains on the sides of your belly are called round ligament pain. This happens because the ligaments that support your uterus and attach to your pelvis get stretched as your uterus grows.

Round ligament pain tends to happen with movement, like standing up, rolling over, coughing, sneezing, or even urinating. The pain may also move into your groin. It typically lasts only a few seconds or minutes.

To ease round ligament pain:

  • Change your position or activity. It might help to lie on your opposite side.
  • Support your belly when you stand or roll over. Move more slowly.
  • Try to rest. A hot bath or heating pad may help.

When to Call Your Doctor

Early in your pregnancy, talk to your doctor about what may or may not be expected and when you might need to call them.

If you're not sure that what you're feeling may be labor, call your doctor or midwife. They should be available at any time to answer questions and discuss your concerns.

Call your doctor or midwife right away if you have:

  • Any vaginal bleeding
  • Constant fluid leaks, or if your water breaks (this can be gushing or trickling fluid)
  • Strong contractions every 5 minutes for an hour
  • Contractions that you can’t "walk through"
  • A distinct change in your baby's movement, or if you feel fewer than 10 movements every 2 hours
  • Any signs of true labor before 37 weeks of pregnancy

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Treatment of Braxton Hicks Contractions

You don't have to do anything for these contractions. If they’re making you uncomfortable, try one of these tips:

  • Drink water.
  • Take a walk. False labor contractions often stop when you change position or get up and move.
  • If you've been active, take a nap or rest.
  • Relax by taking a warm bath or listening to music.
  • Get a massage.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD on March 2, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

emedicineHealth: "Round Ligament Pain."

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: “What Is Labor?" “Who Is at Risk for Preterm Labor and Birth?”

Office on Women’s Health: “Labor and Birth,” “Pregnancy Complications.”

The March of Dimes: “Get ready for labor.”

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “FAQ: How to Tell When Labor Begins.”

UT Southwestern Medical Center: “False alarm: Braxton Hicks contractions vs. true labor.”

Mayo Clinic: “2nd trimester pregnancy: What to expect.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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