Braxton Hicks contractions, also known as prodromal labor or practice contractions, or false labor, are sporadic uterine contractions that sometimes start around six weeks into a pregnancy. However, they are not usually felt until the second trimester or third trimester of pregnancy.
Braxton Hicks contractions are often infrequent, irregular, and involve only mild cramping.
As pregnancy goes on Braxton Hicks contractions go from unnoticeable amounts of pain signals to irregular, infrequent cramping to strong frequent cramping and then finally labor pains.
Braxton Hicks contractions are a tightening of the uterine muscles for one to two minutes and are thought to be an aid to the body in its preparation for birth. Not all expectant mothers feel these contractions. They are not thought to be part of the process of effacement of the cervix.
- Dehydration can make muscles spasm, bringing on a contraction, and is thought to be a factor in extended Braxton Hicks contractions. Adequate hydration can alleviate Braxton Hicks contractions.
- Rhythmic breathing may alleviate the discomfort of Braxton Hicks contractions.
- Lying down on the left side can help ease the pain of contractions.
- A slight change in movement sometimes makes the contractions disappear.
- A full bladder can sometimes trigger Braxton Hicks, so urination may end the contractions.
Braxton Hicks contractions are named after the English doctor who first described them. In 1872, John Braxton Hicks investigated the later stages of pregnancy and noted that many women felt contractions without being near birth. This process was usually painless but caused women confusion as to whether or not they were going into actual labor. It has since been found that Braxton Hicks contractions are much less noticeable during exercise, whereas real contractions are noticeable during exercise.