Braxton Hicks Contractions

What are Braxton Hicks Contractions

Contractions of the uterus can occur throughout pregnancy, but they are not always a sign that you are in labor. You may have practice contractions called Braxton Hicks contractions. These false labor contractions are sometimes confused with true labor.

What are Braxton Hicks contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions are tightening movements that occur in the muscles of the uterus before labor. Unlike true labor contractions, these contractions do not result in opening (dilation) and thinning of the cervix. Toward the end of pregnancy (32–34 weeks), Braxton Hicks contractions can happen more often and may become stronger. These contractions are sometimes difficult to tell apart from true labor because they can be very uncomfortable. You should not feel embarrassed if you go to the hospital with false labor.

Sometimes, the only way to tell if you are in true labor is for your health care provider to look for changes in the cervix. The health care provider will do a physical exam and may monitor your contractions. If you are not in true labor, the exam should show that your cervix is not dilating and your water has not broken.

If there are no other health problems associated with your pregnancy, it is completely safe for you to be sent home with false labor. You may continue to have Braxton Hicks contractions until you go into true labor.

How to tell the difference between true labor and false labor

True labor

  • Contractions last 30–70 seconds.
  • Contractions become very regular.
  • Discomfort is usually felt in the top of the uterus, and it spreads to the lower abdomen and low back.
  • Contractions do not go away with walking.
  • Contractions usually become more intense and increase in frequency.
  • The cervix dilates and gets thinner.

False labor

  • Contractions are usually shorter and not as strong as true labor contractions.
  • Contractions are usually irregular.
  • Contractions are often felt in the front of the lower abdomen and in the groin.
  • Contractions may go away when you walk around or change positions while lying down.
  • Contractions get weaker and are shorter-lasting as time goes on.
  • The cervix usually does not dilate or become thin.

Follow these instructions at home:

  • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.
  • Keep up with your usual exercises and follow other instructions from your health care provider.
  • Eat and drink lightly if you think you are going into labor.
  • If Braxton Hicks contractions are making you uncomfortable:
    • Change your position from lying down or resting to walking, or change from walking to resting.
    • Sit and rest in a tub of warm water.
    • Drink enough fluid to keep your urine pale yellow. Dehydration may cause these contractions.
    • Do slow and deep breathing several times an hour.

Keep all follow-up prenatal visits as told by your health care provider. This is important.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You have continuous pain in your abdomen.

Get help right away if:

  • Your contractions become stronger, more regular, and closer together.
  • You have fluid leaking or gushing from your vagina.
  • You pass blood-tinged mucus (bloody show).
  • You have bleeding from your vagina.
  • You have low back pain that you never had before.
  • You feel your baby’s head pushing down and causing pelvic pressure.
  • Your baby is not moving inside you as much as it used to.


  • Contractions that occur before labor are called Braxton Hicks contractions, false labor, or practice contractions.
  • Braxton Hicks contractions are usually shorter, weaker, farther apart, and less regular than true labor contractions. True labor contractions usually become progressively stronger and regular, and they become more frequent.
  • Manage discomfort from Braxton Hicks contractions by changing position, resting in a warm bath, drinking plenty of water, or practicing deep breathing.

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