Braxton-Hicks - What's the Difference?

Braxton-Hicks Contractions

At around six weeks into your pregnancy, your uterus will begin contracting in what are known as Braxton-Hicks contractions. Even though you won't be able to feel them at this stage (you certainly will later on in your pregnancy), they are happening and they have a specific purpose. They are often referred to as practice contractions because they prepare the uterus for the real thing. They are named for an English doctor, John Braxton Hicks, who in 1872 described these contractions that occur before actual labor. If not for these practice contractions, labor could be longer and harder and pushing the baby out could be very difficult.

Why Do You Have Braxton Hicks?

Although these contractions are not especially painful, they can be quite uncomfortable. Some medical professionals and midwives are of the opinion that Braxton Hicks contractions play a part in toning the uterine muscle and in encouraging the flow of blood to the placenta. While they don't have any connection with dilation of the cervix, when they occur late in pregnancy, they may have an effect upon effacement or thinning the cervix. This false labor, as it is often called, becomes more intense and frequent the closer you come to the time of delivery.


Braxton-Hicks contractions are different from the contractions you will feel when you actually go into labor to deliver your baby. They can be described as:

· Irregular in intensity

· Infrequent and unpredictable

· Non-rhythmic

· Uncomfortable more than painful

· Don't get longer, stronger or closer together

· Taper off and disappear

· Often begin in the belly or back and don't move

· Walking helps them go away, as does lying down

· Cervix doesn't change

There are a number of things that can trigger Braxton-Hicks contractions. You may find that after sex, particularly if you've had an orgasm, you will have stronger Braxton-Hick contractions and you may also have some cramping. This is normal - don't panic. If someone touches your belly it may trigger a contraction or, if baby is particularly busy you can experience Braxton-Hicks contractions. If you've got a full bladder they can happen, or, conversely, if you are dehydrated they can come on.

Dealing with Braxton-Hicks Contractions

Take the pressure off by trying any of these things to alleviate Braxton-Hicks contractions:

· Try changing positions. If you're sitting, lie down. If you're lying down, get up and walk

· Take a warm bath for a half hour or less

· Since Braxton-Hicks contractions can be a result of dehydration, try drinking a couple of glasses of water

· Drink a cup of herbal tea or warm milk to relax

If you're more than 37 weeks and the Braxton-Hicks contractions are coming at an interval of about four every hours and they've continued for more than an hour, contact your healthcare provider. Don't try to diagnose yourself.

What's the Difference?

So, if what you're feeling with Braxton-Hicks contractions is not labor, what does labor actually feel like? Good question. Although labor is different for each woman, there are consistencies that help you to know when you've crossed the line into the real thing.

True labor contractions, unlike Braxton-Hicks, continue to get stronger and longer, they are difficult to talk through and become closer together as labor progresses. Labor contractions cause changes in the cervix. The cervix opens (dilates) and thins (effaces) as the labor encourages the downward movement of the baby through the pelvis.

When Real Labor Begins

If you are between weeks 38 and 42 of your pregnancy, then you can expect labor to start. Usually it happens around the 40th week, but again, it's different for each woman. Some women lose the mucus plug, others experience their water breaking and still others experience both the loss of the mucus plug and their waters breaking before they start their labor. If either or both happen it is a good idea to connect with your labor coach before heading off to the hospital.

When true labor starts these are some of the things you'll experience:

· Contractions will be irregular at first and then become regular

· They get longer, harder and closer together

· Walking usually makes them stronger

· They don't go away when you lie down on your left side

· The contractions begin at the cervix and move up and into the back

· They can begin in the back and move to the front

· Cervix opens and thins

Once your contractions are between five and 20 minutes apart and they aren't going away regardless what you do, labor has begun. Contact your doctor and make preparations to go to the hospital or birth center.

Know the Difference Between Real Labor And Braxton Hicks

Knowing the difference between Braxton-Hicks contractions and true labor can address some concerns you may have about your pregnancy.

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