Braxton Hicks Contractions

Overview

What are Braxton Hicks contractions?

Before labor begins, you might have false labor contractions, also known as Braxton Hicks contractions. These irregular uterine contractions are perfectly normal and might begin in your second or third trimester. A contraction is when your uterus tightens and then relaxes. Contractions are your body's way of getting ready for real labor.

What do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like?

Braxton Hicks contractions are a tightening in your abdomen that comes and goes. These contractions don't get closer together, don't increase in how long they last or how often they occur and don't feel stronger over time. Braxton Hicks contractions can feel like mild menstrual cramps and be uncomfortable. They often come with a change of position and stop with rest. You can talk, walk and go about your normal activities during Braxton Hicks contractions.

Where do you feel Braxton Hicks contractions the most?

Braxton Hicks contractions feel a little like menstrual cramps. They are felt in the front of your abdomen, but not in your back or lower part of your uterus. It's uncomfortable but not painful.

What do true labor contractions feel like?

A contraction feels different for everyone and might feel different from one pregnancy to the next. Labor contractions cause discomfort or a dull ache in your back and lower abdomen, along with pressure in your pelvis. Some people might also feel pain in their sides and thighs. Some describe contractions as intense menstrual cramps. During a true labor contraction, it might be hard to talk or walk. Labor contractions get more painful and come more frequently as time passes.

Possible Causes

What causes Braxton Hicks contractions?

No one knows why some will get Braxton Hicks and others won't. Your uterine muscles are getting ready for childbirth. Some healthcare providers think Braxton Hicks contractions help to soften and thin your cervix (effacement).

Some things might contribute to you getting them like:

  • Being dehydrated.
  • Being very active.
  • Having to pee.
  • Having sex.
  • Lifting something heavy.

How can I tell if it's Braxton Hicks or real contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular, unpredictable and never get intensely painful. They come and go at random intervals and ease up when you change positions or take a walk.

On the other hand, real labor contractions will come at more regular intervals and last closer to 60 seconds each. They will gradually feel more painful and get closer together. Nothing you do helps true contractions subside, and talking or walking becomes difficult.

This chart can help you determine if your contractions are Braxton Hicks or actual labor:

Braxton HicksReal Labor
How often do the contractions occur?Contractions are irregular. They don't get closer together.Consistently stronger and closer together.
How long do they last?Unpredictable.Last between 30 to 90 seconds.
Do they change if you move?Walking or changing positions makes them stop.The contractions don't change or get worse when you walk or shift positions.
How strong are the contractions?They vary from weak to strong. Or they start strong, then get weak.They get stronger and more intense. Talking or walking is difficult.
Where is the pain felt on your body?In the front of your belly.In your cervix, belly or lower back. Pain can be felt throughout your body.
What other symptoms of labor are present?Usually none.Your water may break, or you might have a bloody show or lose your mucus plug.

It might be helpful to time your contractions. Write down how much time it takes from the start of one contraction to the start of the next. Pay attention to how much pain you feel. Do this for about an hour.

What is the pain I feel on the side of my stomach?

Sharp, shooting pains on either side of your abdomen that travel into your groin might result from stretching ligaments that support your growing uterus. This is called round ligament pain. It's triggered by movements like coughing, sneezing or getting out of bed too quickly.

Why am I getting Braxton Hicks contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions are a natural part of pregnancy and don't mean anything is wrong. Your body is simply preparing for labor.

When do Braxton Hicks start?

Braxton Hicks can start as early as the second trimester and last until real labor starts. Some people never experience Braxton Hicks at all, while others feel contractions for months.

Care and Treatment

What can I do to help Braxton Hicks contractions?

There are a few things you can do to feel more comfortable during Braxton Hicks contractions:

  • Take a walk or move if you have been sitting for a long time.
  • Lie down and rest if you've been moving.
  • Drink water (and stay hydrated).
  • Eat a snack.
  • Empty your bladder.
  • Do something relaxing like take a bath, read a book or get a prenatal massage.

When should I worry about Braxton Hicks contractions?

You shouldn't worry about Braxton Hicks contractions. They are normal and common during pregnancy. It might help to track the intensity of pain, frequency and duration of your contractions. This can help you and your healthcare provider determine if it's the "real thing" or Braxton Hicks.

Do Braxton Hicks contractions mean labor is near?

No. Braxton Hicks means your body is preparing for labor, but it doesn't mean labor is starting. You can experience Braxton Hicks weeks or months before real labor begins.

When to Call the Doctor

I am afraid to keep bothering my healthcare provider with "false alarms." When should I call my healthcare provider?

Your healthcare provider is available any time to answer your questions and ease your concerns about whether or not your contractions are signs of true or false labor. Don't be afraid to call your provider if you aren't sure what you're feeling. Your provider might ask you some questions to help determine if you are in labor. If there's any question at all, it's better to be evaluated by your provider.

It's essential to call your healthcare provider at any time if you have:

  • Bright red vaginal bleeding.
  • Continuous leaking of fluid or wetness, or if your water breaks (can be felt as a "gushing" of fluid).
  • Strong contractions every five minutes for one hour.
  • Contractions that you are unable to walk through.
  • A noticeable change in your baby's movement, or if you feel fewer than six to 10 movements in one hour.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does your baby move during Braxton Hicks?

Yes, your baby can still move during both Braxton Hicks contractions and true labor contractions. Every baby's movements are different, so it's hard to predict if your baby will move during contractions. Some people say they feel their baby move less, while others feel lots of movement during contractions. It's always a good idea to pay attention to your baby's movements and tell your healthcare provider if you notice your baby hasn't been active.

Can Braxton Hicks be every 5 minutes?

Yes, Braxton Hicks contractions can come every five minutes. However, Braxton Hicks are irregular and don't get closer together between contractions. So you might have contractions every five minutes, but if they never get painful or come and go, it's probably Braxton Hicks. Real labor contractions are closer to 60 seconds each and last for at least an hour, intensifying as time passes.

Where does the name Braxton Hicks come from?

Braxton Hicks is named after John Braxton Hicks, the first physician to describe the contractions that occur before real labor contractions.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Braxton Hicks contractions are a common and normal part of pregnancy. They don't harm your baby in any way. Writing down the timing of your contractions can help determine if you are in labor or having Braxton Hicks contractions. Talk to your healthcare provider about what labor pain feels like and how to know it's time to go to the hospital. Never be afraid to contact your provider and ask questions. Getting evaluated or speaking to your healthcare team is the only way to know if your labor pain is the real thing.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/10/2022.

References

  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. How To Tell When Labor Begins. (https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/how-to-tell-when-labor-begins?utm_source=redirect&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=otn) Accessed 5/10/2022.
  • American Pregnancy Association. False Labor. (https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/labor-and-birth/false-labor/) Accessed 5/10/2022.
  • American Pregnancy Association. Braxton Hicks Contractions. (https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/labor-and-birth/braxton-hicks/) Accessed 5/10/2022.
  • March of Dimes. Contractions. (https://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/contractions-and-signs-of-labor.aspx) Accessed 5/10/2022.
  • National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. When does labor usually start? (https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/labor-delivery/topicinfo/start-of-labor) Accessed 5/10/2022.
  • Raines DA, Cooper DB. Braxton Hicks Contractions. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470546/) [Updated 2021 Aug 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Accessed 5/10/2022.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy