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Braxton Hicks Contractions

All about Braxton Hicks contractions or false labor

In the late nineteenth century, English doctor John Braxton Hicks recognized that pregnant women would often feel contractions even birth was nowhere near imminent. These contractions were often mild and did not cause pain, but could cause confusion as to whether or not labor had begun.

Today, Braxton Hicks contractions, also called false labor, are a well-recognized symptom of pregnancy. Although they can begin as early as 6 weeks, they are generally experienced in the second and third trimesters. In some cases, early Braxton Hicks contractions (those in the first trimester) are not even felt.

What Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Feel Like?

Braxton Hicks contractions are extremely similar to the regular contractions that occur during labor and birth. For this reason, the experience of Braxton Hicks contractions is often referred to as false labor. However, Braxton Hicks contractions differ from actual contractions in several ways:

  • they are not as severe
  • they are not as long (often less than a minute)
  • they are infrequent (once or twice an hour at most)
  • they are irregular (unpredictable and non-rhythmic)
  • they do not increase in intensity

Braxton Hicks contractions also often go away with a change of movement or position, whereas actual contractions continue and intensify no matter what.

When Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Start?

Braxton Hicks contractions can start as early as the second month of gestation (weeks 5 to 8), but they are most common in the second and third trimesters. Generally, Braxton Hicks contractions present in late pregnancy, after week 28.

More intense and/or more frequent Braxton Hicks contractions may occur as the fetus reaches term (week 37) and the due date draws near.

What Causes Braxton Hicks Contractions?

In general, Braxton Hicks contractions are simply your body's way of preparing for labor and delivery. However, dehydration, physical activity, sexual intercourse, and a full bladder can all trigger Braxton Hicks. They can also result from fetal movements within the uterus.

How Can Braxton Hicks Contractions Be Treated?

To prevent or ease Braxton Hicks contractions, drink plenty of water, urinate frequently, and avoid physical exertion. When Braxton Hicks contractions occur, practice breathing techniques and lie on your left side to ease the discomfort. You will likely find that changing activities or positions will also stop the contractions.

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