Pregnancy Information Childbirth Braxton Hicks

Contractions occur when the uterine muscles contract to push the fetus through the birth canal, and are a hallmark of labor. During pregnancy, a woman may experience Braxton Hicks contractions, or “false labor.”

What are Braxton Hicks Contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions are felt towards the end of a pregnancy. In fact, mild Braxton Hicks contractions may begin early in pregnancy, but are not usually noticed until the pregnancy is close to term.

Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular contractions that may or may not cause discomfort. The time between Braxton Hicks contractions varies, and pressure on the pelvis is constant. Lying down, resting, or even drinking water may cause Braxton Hicks contractions to subside.

What do they do?

Braxton Hicks contractions are thought to help with effacement (thinning) and dilation of the cervix, a process called “ripening.”

Braxton Hicks Contractions Vs. Labor Contractions

Braxton Hicks are irregular contractions, often referred to as “false labor” when they become frequent. Generally, irregular contractions do not indicate that labor is due to start. If, however, contractions occur regularly and increase to five or six contractions an hour, labor, or preterm labor, has probably begun. Regular contractions should be reported to your doctor, especially if your pregnancy is not close to term. With prompt attention, preterm labor can sometimes be halted.

Whether labor is preterm or right on time, real labor contractions differ from false labor contractions in a number of ways:

  • Labor contractions are regular and occur five minutes apart (measured from the start of one contraction to the start of the next contraction), and last approximately one minute. Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular in frequency and duration.
  • Labor contractions are more forceful than Braxton Hicks contractions, and make most women catch their breath. Unlike those of false labor, real labor contractions do not diminish if you rest, whether you are at term or preterm.
  • Braxton Hicks contractions are generally just a tightening of the abdominal muscles (your abdomen may feel as hard as a wall). True labor contractions are generally felt around the entire abdomen, including the back.

Reducing the Discomfort of False Labor Contractions

When Braxton Hicks contractions become uncomfortable, you can take several steps to make yourself more comfortable:

  • Implement your breathing techniques. This is a good time to put in some practice time.
  • If activity has brought on a series of Braxton Hicks contractions, lie down for a few minutes. And conversely, if resting has triggered the false labor contractions, take a walk or participate in some other form of light activity.
  • Drink some water. Braxton Hicks may be brought on by dehydration, which can make the uterus sensitive.
  • Take a warm bath or warm shower.

Induction: Starting True Labor Contractions

Preterm delivery occurs when contractions and labor occur too early in the pregnancy. In contrast, a pregnancy can go past the delivery date with no sign of labor. If a pregnancy is overdue, induction of labor may be required. Induction of labor starts contractions artificially to stimulate labor.

Induction of labor is rarely done if the pregnancy is preterm. However, pregnancy complications sometimes make preterm delivery necessary, in which case induction of labor or an emergency C-section may be advised.

Resources

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (nd). The increase in induction: Unnecessary or saving more babies?

Beers, M.H.