Braxton Hicks contractions are harmless uterine contractions that start in the second half of pregnancy, and become more intense and frequent in the 3rd trimester of pregnancy. They are named after English doctor John Braxton Hicks who described these uterine contractions in the 1870’s as “warming up“ of the uterus for labor which is why they are also referred to as false labor contractions. However, they may sometimes lead to the real thing. False labor contractions are most often described as tightening of the uterus which causes discomfort rather than pain. They usually last about 30 seconds to 1 minute and occur once to twice per hour. They do not occur at regular intervals like real contractions nor increase in intensity. False labor contractions are significantly weaker in compare to the real thing and are usually felt in the abdominal or pelvic region. They typically stop when changing positions, while real contractions continue no matter what you are doing. As the pregnancy progresses, these contractions may become more intense and occur at more frequent intervals which is why it may be sometimes difficult to distinguish them from the real thing.
It remains unknown what causes the Braxton Hicks. According to some health care providers, they may play a role in preparation of the uterus for labor and softening of the cervix. Relation between these false labor contractions and cervical dilation is rejected by most health experts. They can occur for no apparent reason but they may be also triggered by physical activity such as walking and having sex, while some women also report that they experienced this uterine tightening when someone had touched their belly.
It is completely normal to experience “warming up“ of your uterus in the second half of your pregnancy and you do need to worry about it. However, if false labor contractions are causing you discomfort or pain, you may be able to stop them by changing positions. Other methods that may help you stop false labor contractions include laying down or standing up and taking a short walk, drinking water, eating a small meal and gentle back massage. If they stop after trying any of the mentioned methods, you probably do not need to go to the hospital yet.
Although you may be told that you will know when the real labor starts, it is not impossible to mistake false labor contractions with the real ones. For that reason you should keep in mind the signs of real labor:
– uterine contractions increasing in intensity and occurring closer and closer together (more than 5 contractions per hour)
– dull pain in your back and lower abdomen
– menstrual-like cramping and pressure in the pelvic area
– passing fluid that may be tinged with blood (bloody show)
– water breaking
Call your doctor immediately if you think that you may be experiencing real labor contractions or if you are not sure whether the contractions are a false alarm or sign of the real thing, especially if you are close to your due date.