A 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 prelabor contractions or Hicks sign. Not everyone will notice or experience these contractions, and some will have them frequently. Some mothers say that they notice them 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.
While Taber's medical dictionary may say that 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 position can help with any pain from these contractions. A nice warm bath or shower can also help relieve any crampy feelings and promote relaxation.
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. 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.
Calling your doctor or midwife should happen if you have contractions closer than 12 minutes apart prior to 37 weeks, as this might indicate preterm labor and not Braxton Hicks contractions.
While these many 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.
True Labor vs. Braxton Hicks
|Braxton Hicks||True Labor|
|Contractions don't get closer together.||Contractions do get closer together.|
|Contractions don't get stronger.||Contractions do get stronger.|
|Contractions tend to be felt only in the front.||Contractions tend to be felt all over.|
|Contractions don't last longer.||Contractions do last longer.|
|Walking has no effect on the contractions.||Walking makes the contractions stronger.|
|Cervix doesn't change with contractions.||Cervix opens and thins with contractions.|