The 4-1-1 On Early Contractions

A few months before you’re due, you may feel your uterus tighten up and then relax. Rest assured these contractions, called Braxton Hicks, are normal.

Pregnant woman having contractions

Some moms never feel them at all, while others -- particularly those who have already had a baby or two -- start feeling them as early as 15 weeks. Braxton Hicks contractions, so named for John Braxton Hicks, the English physician who first described them in 1872, actually begin at around your 7th week of pregnancy. Why do they happen?

Revving up

Your uterus is a muscle, and by the end of your pregnancy, it’s a pretty big one. It requires a lot of power to dilate your cervix and push your little bundle of joy out. And like any muscle, it benefits from working out, which is what these contractions do.

Braxton Hicks contractions are generally painless and irregular -- you may first notice them when your hand is on your belly and you feel it becoming rock hard. As your pregnancy progresses, they begin to become more frequent and can be uncomfortable -- again, especially more so if you’ve already had babies.

Braxton Hicks contractions are unlike real contractions in that they don’t change your cervix -- at least in the beginning. As you get closer to your due date, your cervix may begin to thin out and dilate as a result, and they may make you sit up and take notice.

What to do

If they make you feel uncomfortable, change your position, go for a walk or take a shower. If you notice them growing more frequent, more painful and lasting longer, you may be edging into real labor -- particularly if they don’t seem to change no matter what position you lie in or what activity you engage in.

Your care provider has likely given you instructions on when to call or go on in -- in my case, my doctor said that I should go into the labor and delivery unit when my contractions were around 5 minutes apart.

If you are far away from your due date, however, and if you notice a change in the frequency or intensity of your contractions, it’s probably a good idea to go ahead and phone your care provider to see if you need to get checked out.

More on contractions and labor

Contraction timer for labor
What does a contraction feel like, anyway?
Is it really labor?

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