Contractions are a signal from the body that it’s time for labor and delivery, but sometimes they’re a false alarm. Braxton Hicks contractions, also referred to as false labor contractions, may develop as early as the 20th week of your pregnancy. They’re essentially practice for the uterine muscles, which have a big job to do during a vaginal delivery.
So, what do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like, and how can you differentiate them from real contractions? We cover it all below.
Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular uterine contractions caused by pregnancy hormones, helping your body prepare for childbirth. They thin the cervix just like true labor contractions but aren’t powerful enough to deliver a baby.
Many birthing people experience false labor contractions as an uncomfortable tightening in the abdomen. They’re typically 15-30 seconds long but may last up to two minutes in some cases.
These contractions vary in intensity. Some are so mild that they’re not noticeable. Not everyone experiences them, so don’t worry if you’re not feeling anything. The absence of false labor contractions does not indicate a difficult labor or complications.
Some women experience more frequent or more severe Braxton-Hicks contractions during a second pregnancy.
Braxton Hicks contractions can start as early as the 20th week of your pregnancy during the second trimester. They often become more noticeable in the third trimester and may increase in frequency or intensity as your due date approaches.
In addition to pregnancy hormones, other physical factors that may contribute to the development of Braxton Hicks contractions include exercise, physical fatigue, sexual activity and orgasm, and dehydration. (Contrary to popular belief, these factors won’t cause early labor, just Braxton Hicks.)
If you are unsure whether you’re experiencing false labor contractions or the real thing, contact a trusted healthcare professional.
If it turns out to be Braxton Hicks contractions, you definitely won’t be the first birthing person to gear up for labor after a false alarm.
You should always feel comfortable reaching out to a healthcare professional about any discomfort or concerns during pregnancy. That includes if you think you’re experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions.
Never feel bad for heading to your birthing location after false labor contractions. It can be difficult to know if labor has begun, and it is part of any birthing professional’s job to let you know when the baby is coming.
It’s especially important to seek medical care after potential labor contractions if you’re less than 37 weeks pregnant or another labor sign is present, such as your water breaking.
It’s okay to feel uneasy or nervous as you prepare for labor. Many parents-to-be experience these feelings. In addition to leaning on your loved ones for support, consult trusted providers including your doctor and the Ruth Health team.
Have additional questions about pregnancy, the stages of labor, or postpartum life? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll make sure you get the information you need.
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