Braxton-Hicks Contractions

You may have felt an occasional squeezing or tightening across your abdomen in the last few weeks. As you enter your third trimester, this feeling, called a Braxton-Hicks contraction, may get stronger and more frequent.

As you near the end of your pregnancy, you may wonder how to tell the difference between a Braxton-Hicks contraction and a true labor contraction:

  • The uterus is a large muscle, and a Braxton-Hicks contraction is an irregular, involuntary flexing of that muscle, a gentle workout to prepare it for the hard work of labor. Usually, women feel them begin near the pubic bone and move up toward the top of the uterus.
  • True contractions that kick off labor tend to be felt much lower and deeper. Many women describe them as a strong pulling around the vagina that rises toward the pubic bone. True contractions may be intense yet rarely exceed one minute. In real labor you usually see a pink- or red-tinged plug of mucus from the cervix, called the bloody show.
  • Braxton-Hicks contractions can be strong enough to require deep breathing and can occur more than 34 times in an hour, like labor contractions. They are especially likely to be strong and frequent if you are a little dehydrated or running a fever. If they are Braxton-Hicks, drinking 4-6 glasses of water and lying on the left side usually calms them down, while true labor contractions will increase in frequency and strength, no matter what you do.
  • Braxton-Hicks contractions may also occur after a sudden burst of activity, like running up the stairs, or first thing in the morning when you awaken with a full bladder or following sex.
  • Fetal movement can also mimic a contraction. You can tell the difference by placing your hands on the top and sides of the uterus. If its a contraction, the uterus will feel hard all over and tight to your pressed fingertips. If the uterus feels hard in some places and soft in others, your baby's movements are probably causing the sensation.

This message is not intended to provide individual medical advice. Always seek the advice of a physician or qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have about your health or medical condition, your breastfeeding issues and your infant's health. Never disregard, avoid or delay contacting a doctor or other qualified professional because of something you have read in our emails, webpages or other electronic communications.

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