Braxton-Hicks Contractions (False Labor) Symptoms, Frequency, and Causes

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

Braxton Hicks contractions definition and facts

  • Braxton-Hicks contractions have been referred to as "false labor" and are contractions of the uterus that occur predominantly in the third trimester of pregnancy.
  • Braxton-Hicks contractions are typically less painful than those of true labor are.
  • Unlike true labor, Braxton-Hicks contractions are unpredictable, do not occur at regular intervals, and do not become more intense over time.
  • Dehydration and physical activity may trigger Braxton-Hicks contractions.
  • Changing positions may alleviate uncomfortable Braxton-Hicks contractions.

What are Braxton Hicks contractions?

Braxton-Hicks contractions are contractions of the uterus that occur during the third trimester of pregnancy. They are perfectly normal and have been said to represent contractions that occur as the uterus is preparing to give birth. In some women, they occur as early as the second trimester. Sometimes, Braxton-Hicks contractions have been referred to as "false labor."

In contrast to the contractions of true labor, Braxton-Hicks contractions do not occur at regular intervals, do not get stronger over time, and do not last longer over time. They do not occur at predictable intervals, and they may disappear altogether for a time. They tend to become more frequent toward the end of pregnancy.

Common events can sometimes trigger Braxton-Hicks contractions, for example:

  1. Increased activity of mother or baby
  2. Touching of the maternal abdomen
  3. Dehydration
  4. Sexual intercourse
  5. Distended maternal bladder

Braxton-Hicks contractions are named after an English doctor, John Braxton Hicks, who first described them in 1872.

pregnant women picture

10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Early Labor

While there are characteristic changes in the body with impending labor, every woman's experience is unique and different. "Normal" can vary from woman to woman. The signs and symptoms of normal labor can begin three weeks prior to the anticipated due date up until two weeks afterward, and there is no precise way to predict exactly when a woman will go into labor. When signs and symptoms of early labor do occur, they may include:

  1. The mucus plug passes
  2. The baby drops
  3. You feel the need to urinate more frequently
  4. Back pain
  5. Contractions
  6. Feeling the urge to have a bowel movement

What do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like?

Braxton-Hicks contractions are not typically as painful as those of true labor contractions may be. Some women describe them as a tightening sensation across the lower abdomen. They may feel similar to menstrual cramps in some women. The abdomen may become firm to the touch. They do not occur at regular intervals.

Which home remedies help relieve Braxton Hicks contraction uncomfortableness and pain?

There are measures that can be taken to bring about relief if Braxton-Hicks contractions are uncomfortable:

  1. Changing positions, taking a walk, or resting if you have been active;
  2. Drinking a glass of water, or a cup of herbal tea;
  3. Performing relaxation exercises, deep breathing, or mental relaxation;
  4. Eating something;
  5. Bathing in warm bath for up to 30 minutes;

When should I call my doctor about Braxton Hicks contractions?

Call your doctor or midwife if you haven't reached 37 weeks and the contractions are increasing in frequency, are more painful or you have any of the signs of preterm labor:

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Medically Reviewed on 10/12/2018
References
REFERENCE: Normal Labor and Delivery. Medscape. Updated: Nov 16, 2017.
<https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/260036-overview>
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