Braxton Hicks: Another name for false labor
You’re getting close to your delivery date, but it’s not quite time. Yet you keep feeling these nagging muscle spasms, almost like menstrual cramps.
Don’t rush to the hospital yet. Chances are, you’re having Braxton Hicks contractions, which are getting your body ready for the big event.
Also known as false labor, Braxton Hicks contractions are uncomfortable, but they don’t induce labor.
What are Braxton Hicks contractions?
Usually felt during the third or even second trimester, these very normal minor spasms are nothing to worry about. They’re just the result of your pregnancy hormones gradually signaling your body that childbirth is coming by flexing the uterine muscles — although not enough to push out the baby.
Braxton Hicks contractions can feel worrisome, especially for first-time moms. But once you understand what’s happening and know how to identify the difference between false and real labor, you can relax and let your body get ready for delivery.
So how do you know if you’re having false — or real — labor?
Braxton Hicks contractions are different from labor contractions in several ways. They usually:
- Are not especially painful
- Come and go at irregular intervals
- Don’t get stronger in short periods of time, although they may gradually intensify over the course of your pregnancy
- Can be stopped by moving around
When do Braxton Hicks contractions start?
You may start to notice mild Braxton Hicks contractions any time after week 20 of your pregnancy. And they’ll likely become stronger in the third trimester, increasing until you go into labor. The contractions usually last between 15 and 30 seconds, but you may sometimes feel them for as long as 2 minutes.
Although harmless, Braxton Hicks contractions feel, and may even look, strange. They start by tightening the muscles at the top of your uterus and spread downward. You may be able to feel, or even see, your abdomen change, becoming hard and maybe misshapen. Don’t worry. This is normal, too.
Braxton Hicks contractions are among the many significant changes your body goes through during pregnancy. Like those other changes, you will likely grow used to the mild discomfort and experience less stress when false-labor contractions occur.
Braxton Hicks contractions don’t require medical attention. But you can do things to ease any discomfort you have.
- Move around or take a walk, because motion often stops the contractions.
- Get some sleep or rest if you’ve already been moving a lot.
- Stay hydrated — even slight dehydration can trigger contractions.
- Practice any breathing and visualization tactics you learned in childbirth classes.
- Listen to soothing music, get a massage or take a warm bath.
If you experience serious pain or have any unusual vaginal discharge or bleeding, call your doctor. But if your contractions are mild and irregular, relax for now. Real labor has different symptoms. To learn more, read more about recognizing the signs of labor.