Braxton Hicks Contractions are “fake contractions” that fall into the “you’ve been punk’d” category.

When Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Occur? Braxton Hicks contractions are mostly seen during the third trimester, but they can surface during the second trimester, as well.

Insider Info: Braxton Hicks contractions start earlier and occur more frequently in women who’ve given birth before. 

Braxton Hicks Contractions vs. The Real Deal

At times, it can be hard to tell if you’re truly in early labor or if you’re just having Braxton Hicks contractions. To help you figure it out, here’s a chart comparing the two types of contractions:

Braxton Hicks Contractions
(“False Labor”)
Legit Contractions
(The Real Deal)
  • These practice contractions are a warm-up for the real thing.

  • They’re NOT associated with labor (i.e. they don’t cause the cervix to dilate).

  • During a Braxton Hicks contraction your belly gets tight and hardens, then relaxes. This type of contraction can feel kind of weird, but it doesn’t usually hurt.

  • Braxton Hicks contractions happen sporadically-there’s no discernible pattern to them. They do NOT intensify or get closer together over time.

  • You can hang out and have a normal conversation through a Braxton Hicks contraction.

  • Braxton Hicks contractions go away with rest and water.
  • True contractions follow a predictable pattern and get longer, stronger, and closer together over time.

  • Real contractions lead to changes in the cervix causing it to thin out (aka “efface”) and dilate.

  • Real deal contractions hurt (like bad menstrual cramps or intense lower back pain).

  • You won’t want to sit around and chat through a real deal contraction. They require your full attention and are hard to ignore.

The Next Steps if You’re Feeling a Series of Contractions:

  • Take a load off and relax for a bit.

    PediaTip: Lie on your left side.
  • Drink some water.

    Why? Because dehydration can trigger Braxton Hicks contractions. 
  • Start timing your contractions over an hour.

    Learn about how to count your contractions and Get Wise about handy apps that can help you keep track of them.

Ok, I Think I Might Be Having “Real-Deal” Contractions. When Should I Call My Doctor?

It depends on your doctor. He/she will likely give you a protocol to follow. If not, ask for one. 

Here’s a General Rule of Thumb, Though…

Call Your Doctor if You:

  • Are less than 35 weeks and have 4-6 contractions (or more) in 1 hour that don’t resolve with rest and hydration.
  • Are 35 weeks or beyond and are consistently having contractions that are 5 minutes apart, last 1 minute each, and have been going on for 1 hour (or more). This is known as the 5-1-1 Rule.

    Insider Info: Some docs will have you call (if you’re past 35 weeks) when your contractions are 4 minutes apart or even 3 minutes apart. Ask your doctor what he/she prefers.
  • In addition, call your doctor if you:
    • Think your water broke. In this case, you’ll probably have to go to the hospital because there’s an increased risk of infection if your water has been broken for more than 18 hours prior to delivery.
    • Have vaginal bleeding, a change in your vaginal discharge, pain with urination, pelvic pressure, or any other concerning symptoms.
    • Feel like you don’t know what the heck is going on.

Here’s What Your Doctor (or the On-Call Doc) Will Want to Know:

  • Your due date and how far along you are (in weeks).
  • If you’re carrying multiples (more than 1 baby).
  • Any chronic medical conditions that you have.
  • Medications that you’re taking (if any).
  • Complications that you’ve had during this pregnancy or in prior pregnancies.
  • How far apart your contractions are and how long each one lasts. Are the contractions irregular and not progressing (i.e. Braxton Hicks) or are they regular and getting closer together (The Real Deal)?
  • What you were doing when the contractions started (think:. Exercising? Having Sex? Nothing?).
  • If you have any additional symptoms (such as vaginal bleeding or leaking fluid from your vagina)?

What Will (Probably) Happen Next?

  • If your doctor suspects that you’re having Braxton Hicks contractions (based on your description of them) and they resolve with rest and hydration, then you can likely monitor the situation at home.
  • If you’re in the very early stages of labor and are almost full term (37 weeks), your doctor may recommend that you “labor down” at home, then come to the hospital when your contractions get closer together (or if your water breaks).
  • If you’re in the early stages of labor, but you aren’t close to full term, then you’ll need to go the hospital. Your doctor can monitor you there and give you a medication to try to stop labor in its tracks.

    Insider Info:
    “Preterm labor” is defined as uterine contractions that occur before 37 weeks AND that cause the cervix to dilate (aka “Real Deal” Contractions before 37 weeks).
  • If you’re having severe abdominal pain and you develop vaginal bleeding then you’ll need to be seen by a doctor ASAP, probably in the ER. 

    Insider Info: Rectal “pressure” (especially in women who’ve had children before) suggests that the baby’s head is waaay down there, and delivery is imminent. Get to the hospital ASAP if you feel this.

The Bottom Line

Braxton Hicks contractions are a fairly regular occurrence during pregnancy, especially during the third trimester. If you experience contractions and don’t know if they’re real or “fake,” call your doctor. And don’t worry if it’s a false alarm-it’s best to play it safe when it comes to contractions.