What are Braxton Hicks contractions? (2023)

Braxton Hicks contractions occur when the uterus intermittently contracts and relaxes during pregnancy. They are sometimes also called false labor, pre-labor or labor because they are often confused with real labor.

While Braxton Hicks contractions can occur during pregnancy, you usually don't feel them until the second or third trimester.Some people may not even notice them. While they can seem frightening or worrisome if you've never felt them before or suspect you're going into labor, they're a perfectly normal part of pregnancy.

What are Braxton Hicks contractions? (1)

They are named after John Braxton Hicks, a British gynecologist who first described them in 1872 after noticing that his patients were in labor but not in labor.

See why Braxton Hicks contractions happen, how to tell the difference between fake and real labor, when to call your doctor, and how to manage contractions when they're painful or distressing.


It is not known exactly why Braxton Hicks contractions occur in pregnant women. However, the most common explanation is that theuterusYou are preparing for labor, hence the name "practicing contractions".


Although obstetricians/gynecologists are well acquainted with Braxton Hicks contractions, many pregnant women, especially those expecting their first child, are understandably surprised when they experience false labor for the first time.

It's easy to think of Braxton Hicks contractions as warning signs that your pregnancy is at risk or that you're going into preterm labor. In a 2013 study, some women reported feeling so weird that they felt something was wrong with their developing baby or that they should stop exercising during pregnancy.

What is even more confusing is that the way your labor compares to that of a family member or friend can differ from one pregnancy to another.

Fortunately, there are many ways to resolve the issue. Here's how to tell if you're having Braxton Hicks contractions or actual labor.

Braxton Hicks vs. Real labor contractions

The main difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and labor is that Braxton Hicks contractions occur at random intervals and can be triggered by activities of daily living, whereas contractions develop in a clear pattern and intensify over time. , no matter what you do.

Here are some important qualities that can help you determine whether you are experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions, struggling during labor, or struggling with the normal changes that occur as your body adjusts to the birth of a developing baby:

  • Tempo: Braxton Hicks seem to have a pattern, but ultimately they don't occur at regular intervals or converge over time. Contractions, on the other hand, last between 60 and 90 seconds, have a pattern and become more frequent over time.
  • changes: Braxton Hicks usually starts when you're dehydrated, when you're particularly active, or when your baby is moving. If you drink a large glass of water, change positions or rest for a while, they may disappear. the contractions don't stop.
  • intensity: Braxton Hicks tend to feel painless, weak or start out strong but weak. The contractions become stronger and more painful over time.
  • Location: Usually you only feel Braxton Hicks in your stomach. While some people describe their true labor pains as just abdominal pains, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes that true labor pains often start out as discomfort in your back that spreads to your lower abdomen.pool.They can also cause pain in the flank and thighs.

In addition to the pain of true labor and Braxton Hicks contractions, the growing uterus can sometimes cause sharp, stabbing pains in the side of the abdomen and groin due to stretching.ribbons.

When to call your doctor

If you think you are going into labor or suspect something is wrong, contact your obstetrician for next steps. According to the 5-1-1 rule, you are in actual labor when:

  • Your contractions come every 5 minutes.
  • Each contraction lasts at least 1 minute.
  • You have been in labor for 1 hour.

However, if your delivery is more than three weeks away, call your doctor if you experience more than four to six pains in an hour.

Call your doctor or go to the hospital right away if you notice any of the following:

  • You may feel fluid leaking from your vagina (an indicator that your waters have broken) and you don't have contractions.
  • You bleed profusely from the vagina.
  • You have severe, persistent pain.
  • Your fetus moves less than normal.


Braxton Hicks contractions can be painful and uncomfortable, especially when they give a false alarm. The good news is that there are numerous coping tools you can use to relieve exercise cramps and get some rest.

drink it all

Rehydrate first. If you call your doctor, he will likely tell you what to do. The most common trigger for Braxton Hicks isdehydration, which can be even worse if you are sick or vomiting with a cold,a gripe, Ömorning sickness. Braxton Hicks usually goes away after you get the fluids your body needs.

Give a break

Are you moving, furnishing your children's room, or have you just finished a long career? Excessive exercise and heavy lifting can trigger Braxton Hicks, but that doesn't mean you should stop exercising altogether (some moderate physical activity is good for you and your baby).

Put your feet up, get some rest, and try to take breaks whenever possible in the future. If you have concerns about your activity level or whether certain exercises are safe during pregnancy, see your doctor to discuss.


That said, sometimes it's Braxton HicksAlsothe result of spending too much time on the couch or exercising your baby, such as B. punching or kicking. In this case, interrupting Braxton Hicks contractions by changing your position or getting up to do some light movement, such as walking, may help.

A Word from Verywell

While Braxton Hicks contractions are a normal part of pregnancy, they can be a source of stress if you're worried about irritating your doctor with false positives or underreacting when something serious might be going on.

Vaginal birth can also be painful or resemble real labor, so there's no shame if it's hard to tell the difference between the two.

If your gut is telling you that something is wrong, don't hesitate to ask for help. With a few questions, your doctor can determine if you need to see or monitor your symptoms. If not, consider Braxton Hicks contractions as one of the many ways your body is letting you know it's getting ready for the big day.

5 fonts

Verywell Health only uses quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to back up the facts in our articles. read ourpublishing processto learn more about how we review our content and keep it accurate, reliable, and reliable.

  1. Michigan Medicine.Contractions During Pregnancy: What to Expect.

  2. UT Southwestern Medical Center.False alarm: Braxton Hicks contractions versus true labor.

  3. Hanghoj S.When it hurts, I think: now the baby is dying. Risk perception of physical activity during pregnancy.women and childbirth. 2013;26(3):190-194. doi:10.1016/j.wombi.2013.04.004

  4. Cleveland Clinic.True versus false work.

  5. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).How to know when labor will start.

What are Braxton Hicks contractions? (2)

VonLauren Krouse
Lauren Krouse is a journalist with a particular interest in reporting on women's health, mental health and the social determinants of health. Her work appears in Women's Health, Prevention, and Self, among others.

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