Braxton Hicks Contraction Symptoms

A pregnant woman experiencing braxton hicks contractions.
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AA Braxton Hicks contraction is defined by Taber's Medical dictionary as an intermittent, painless contraction that may occur every 10 to 20 minutes after the first trimester of pregnancy. These contractions were first described in 1872 by British gynecologist John Braxton Hicks.

Sometimes these contractions are also called pre-labor contractions or Hicks sign. Not everyone will notice or experience these contractions, and some women will have them frequently throughout pregnancy. Some mothers say that they notice Braxton Hicks more in subsequent pregnancies than in their first pregnancy.

Usually, women will notice them by casually brushing their hands against their protruding belly and notice that it has tightened, while other moms will notice the tight feeling without having to feel it with their hands. Don't panic if you don't notice them. Some women only notice them because they find them to be uncomfortable.

You don't need to pay attention to Braxton Hicks contractions unless they are painful or become regular, as this might be a sign of preterm labor.

How to Cope

While Taber's medical dictionary says they are painless, pregnant women tell a different story, though most would call it uncomfortable rather than painful.

If you experience discomfort or pain with these practice contractions, try out techniques you've learned in class to deal with labor, such as breathing, relaxation, massage, movement and more.

Often women will find that simply changing positions can help with any pain from these contractions. A nice warm bath or shower can also help relieve any crampy feelings and promote relaxation.

What Moms Say About Braxton Hicks Contractions

  • "I thought these practice contractions were supposed to be painless?"
  • "I didn't even notice I was having them until I accidentally reached down to brush something off my shirt and realized that my stomach was hard. That's when I figured out that must be what all the fuss was about!"
  • "In my first pregnancy, I think I was more oblivious. I'm not sure if I noticed them more because I knew what to look for the second time around, or if they were really more noticeable because I'd already had one baby."
  • "Didn't feel a single one. I know I must have had them, but I didn't feel it if I did. I was four centimeters at my last doctor's appointment and was five when I got to the hospital, so something was going on!"

True Labor vs. Braxton Hicks

So how would you tell the difference between a Braxton Hicks contraction and a true labor contraction? Generally, true labor contractions will get longer in length, closer in frequency, and stronger in intensity.

If you have contractions closer than 12 minutes apart prior to 37 weeks, calling your doctor or midwife as this might indicate preterm labor and not Braxton Hicks contractions.

A Braxton Hicks contraction might get closer together but not consistently, or they may feel stronger but go away when you move around. Some moms say that they only experience Braxton Hicks contractions when moving around and they cease when mom sits down.

Braxton Hicks
  • Contractions don't get closer together.  

  • Contractions don't get stronger. 

  • Contractions tend to be felt only in the front.

  • Contractions don't last longer.   

  • Walking has no effect on the contractions.

  • Cervix doesn't change with contractions.        

True Labor
  • Contractions do get closer together.

  • Contractions do get stronger.

  • Contractions tend to be felt all over.

  • Contractions do last longer.

  • Walking makes the contractions stronger.

  • Cervix opens and thins with contractions.

A Word From Verywell

While Braxton Hicks may seem like an annoyance, yet another thing to deal with in pregnancy, they are believed to be helpful in preparing your body for labor, even though no noticeable progress can be seen.

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  • The Labor Progress Handbook. Simkin, P and Ancheta, R. Wiley-Blackwell; 2 edition.