Braxton Hicks contractions—also known as “false labour” or “practice contractions”1 —are a normal part of pregnancy. Learn what they are, how they feel, and whether or not they’re a cause to seek medical care.

What Are Braxton Hicks Contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions are contractions of the muscles of the uterus that won’t cause you to go into labour. Instead, Braxton Hicks are your body’s way of preparing for labor1—the same way you’d prepare for baby by researching feeding options, for example.

All pregnant women will experience Braxton Hicks contractions since they’re caused by your increasing pregnancy hormones.2 Though the cause is unknown3, most pregnant women will experience Braxton Hicks contractions at the end of your second trimester or the beginning of your third trimester.4 While they can occur without provocation, some things may trigger Braxton Hicks contractions: 1 , 2

  • Mom (or baby) being active

  • Someone touching the belly

  • A full bladder

  • Dehydration

  • Having sex

Are Braxton Hicks Contractions Painful?

Braxton Hicks contractions are not painful—they’re more discomforting. They typically feel like the muscles across your pregnant belly are tightening; if you place your hands there, you may notice that your uterus feels hard to the touch.

You can ease the discomfort of your Braxton Hicks in a few ways: 1,4

  • Change your position—from standing to sitting, or sitting to laying

  • Stay hydrated

  • Warm yourself up with a bath or a warm beverage

  • Do something to relax, like a favorite low-effort hobby or a massage

How to Tell the Difference Between True Labour & False Labour

If you’re a first-time mom, it may be difficult to tell if you’re experiencing real or false labour. These are the key differences between labour contractions and Braxton Hicks, or false labour, contractions: 1

  • Unpredictable and irregular

  • Uncomfortable, not painful

  • Do not increase in intensity or frequency

  • Grow less intense as they go on or disappear completely

However, if you experience any of these symptoms, you may be having real labour contractions and be in the first stages of labour: 5

  • Pain

  • Contractions that start happening closer together

  • Contractions that become strong and longer lasting

  • Contractions that grow in intensity and duration

When Should You See a Doctor?

Worried about calling your doctor for a false alarm? Follow the 5-1-1 rule to gauge whether you’re having true labour rather than Braxton Hicks contractions: 1

  • Contractions happen every five minutes

  • Contractions last at least one minute

  • This pattern has been happening for one hour

Aside from that checklist, contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following: 1

  • Bleeding from the vagina

  • Fluid coming from the vagina

  • Painful contractions

  • Baby moving much more or much less frequently

Braxton Hicks contractions and false labour are perfectly normal experiences during pregnancy. Toward the end of your third trimester, though, you’ll want to be prepared to start looking for the differences between true labour and Braxton Hicks contractions and ensure you have your hospital bag packed for when the big day arrives.