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Braxton Hicks Contractions

Wondering if you're having Braxton Hicks contractions, gas or (worse!) preterm labor? Here's how to tell and how to deal with those "practice" contractions.

What are Braxton Hicks contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions (named after the English doctor who first described them in 1872) are relatively painless, irregular and infrequent contractions that start around week six and last until the weeks before delivery. Though they start in the first months, you probably won't feel them until later in pregnancy—they can start as early as week 20 but are more common in the third trimester. These contractions are your body's way of practicing and preparing for labor.

What are the signs of Braxton Hicks contractions?

You’ll feel tightening in your uterus that’s irregular, infrequent and unpredictable. These contractions won’t increase in intensity the way the contractions of labor do. They’re also likely to go away if you change positions.

Are there any tests for Braxton Hicks contractions?

There’s no reason to test for Braxton Hicks contractions, but if you’re having them and your doctor suspects it could be preterm labor, she may do some fetal monitoring tests to record the length and duration of your contractions, as well as the heartbeat of your fetus. Or your doctor may check for other signs of preterm labor, like dilation of your cervix or the presence of certain proteins.

How common are Braxton Hicks contractions?

Stats are tough to find, but it seems that most moms-to-be get Braxton Hicks contractions here and there during pregnancy. They’re most common in the third trimester.

How did I get Braxton Hicks contractions?

They’re just a normal part of pregnancy. The tightness you feel in your uterus during a Braxton Hicks contraction comes from the tensing of the muscles in your uterus. Being really active, a full bladder, sex and dehydration can all trigger Braxton Hicks contractions.

How will Braxton Hicks contractions affect baby?

As long as they don’t turn into preterm labor, they won’t! In fact, some medical professionals say these contractions are toning up your uterus and promoting the flow of blood to your placenta, so think of it as nourishing baby.

What’s the best way to treat Braxton Hicks contractions?

Although Braxton Hicks contractions cause more annoyance than pain, drinking water or taking a walk or a warm bath should relieve any discomfort. Mild Braxton Hicks contractions are very common and nothing to worry about, but call your doctor if you're in the first eight months and feel four or more contractions in an hour—that might be a sign of preterm labor.

What can I do to prevent Braxton Hicks contractions?

Other than staying well-hydrated and not overdoing it activity-wise, there’s not much. Just be on the lookout for signs of preterm labor and you’ll be totally fine.

What do other pregnant moms do when they have Braxton Hicks contractions?

“I’ve been getting [Braxton Hicks] this pregnancy. It will feel like part of your uterus is hard to the touch, like it’s frozen. They don’t hurt, but are uncomfortable. I try to move around or stretch through it. It also helps to lie on your side and relax, and make sure to stay hydrated to keep them to a minimum.”

“I’ve been getting [Braxton Hicks] a lot. Last night, every time I stood up, I got one. I just drink water and lie on my left side to calm them, and that works well.”

“I had [Braxton Hicks] with DD. I would be sitting and suddenly feel out of breath or unable to breathe. I would have to switch positions, and then I’d feel better. This was because of my uterus hardening and making my lungs work harder.”

Plus, more from The Bump:

Tool: Contraction Counter

Uterine Irritability

Abdominal Pain and Cramps During Pregnancy

PHOTO: Jules Slutsky