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Contractions signal labor, don't they? So what's happening to your belly in the second and third trimesters? Braxton Hicks contractions are uterine contractions, but they don't mean you are in labor.

Here's what you need to know about these "practice contractions. 

What are Braxton Hicks contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions are also known as "practice contractions", or even "false labor". They are uterine contractions that don't serve a purpose, and that don't normally cause any pain. Braxton Hicks contractions are named after the British doctor John Braxton Hicks. In 1872, he found out that lots of pregnant women experienced contractions toward the end of their pregnancies, without being in labor.

Braxton Hicks contractions can last longer or shorter, but they normally go away when a woman moves positions. You know you are having a Braxton Hicks contraction when you feel your pregnant belly tense up and become all hard. They don't actually feel like labor contractions, just like your abdomen turning to stone. Braxton Hicks contractions don't follow any kind of pattern, unlike labor contractions. Some medical professionals think that Braxton Hicks contractions help the uterus get ready for labor, but it's not really known whether they are at all functional.

When in pregnancy do Braxton Hicks contraction?

Braxton Hicks contractions can start as early as the six week of pregnancy. At this point, the uterus is still very small, and a pregnant woman won't even realize that she is having a Braxton Hicks contraction. Most women will have noticed their first Braxton Hicks contraction by 20 weeks, but other's won't notice them until the start of the third trimester. In rare cases, a woman will not experience Braxton Hicks contractions at all during her pregnancy which doesn't mean they are not happening.

Braxton Hicks contractions triggers and remedies

Braxton Hicks contractions can turn up at any time, but there are some situations in which these "practice contractions" are more likely to show their face. Physical activity often triggers Braxton Hicks contractions, whether it is mom's activity or baby's. Sex and orgasm are common triggers of Braxton Hicks contractions, and even a full bladder can trigger them! Some moms-to-be find that having their abdomen touched causes Braxton Hicks contactions as well. Finally, not being properly hydrated will give expectant moms more frequent episodes of Braxton Hicks contractions. (Have you noticed how many times we've had to type out "Braxton Hicks contractions" in this small bit of text? It's no wonder that pregnant women always shorten it to "BH contractions" on forums!) Though Braxton Hicks contractions aren't dangerous, you may well find them a little annoying. Most of the time, a Braxton Hicks contraction will go away when they change what they are doing. If you are sitting down, get up and walk around. If you were exercising, sit down for a while. Breathe deeply a few times, take a bath, and make sure to drink plenty of water, in case your frequent contractions were caused by mild dehydration.

Braxton Hicks or labor?

Braxton Hicks contractions do tend to increase in frequency toward the end of a pregnancy, and they may become more noticeable or even painful as well. As your due date approaches, you may wonder more and more often if the contractions you are feeling are Braxton Hicks or actual labor contractions. If you have never been through labor and birth, it can be very hard to know how to tell the difference! If you want to put your contractions to the test, start by doing all the things we mentioned that normally alleviate Braxton Hicks contractions. If changing position doesn't make your contraction go away, it may not be a Braxton Hicks contraction. Remember, labor contractions start off being only barely noticeable and lasting a short time. They don't come very close together at the beginning. As your labor progresses, your contractions will last longer as well as being stronger, and more frequently together. If you notice a clear pattern in your contractions, and they are becoming longer and stronger it's probably labor. Don't let painful Braxton Hicks contractions fool you into thinking you're in labor. You can time your contractions using a stop watch or the Contraction Master tool on the web if you want more information about the pattern of your contractions.

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