Braxton Hicks Contractions
As pregnancy nears its end, the cervix begins to dilate, and the muscles of the uterus begin contracting. However, at about 20 weeks of pregnancy, some women experience irregular contractions, known as Braxton Hicks contractions. Although not a sign of true labor, Braxton Hicks contractions, also referred to as "false labor," can continue throughout the pregnancy. Some women are unaware of them; others experience a tightening that starts at the top of the uterus and spreads down toward the pelvic area. The abdomen can also become very hard. Braxton Hicks contractions usually last about 15 to 30 seconds, and occur irregularly and infrequently, unlike real contractions, which occur often and become more frequent and intense.
Braxton Hicks contractions may be caused by dehydration, so it is important for expectant mothers to stay hydrated. In most cases, these contractions subside when the mother changes position, or moves around. Resting or relaxing can also help them to stop. In most cases, Braxton Hicks contractions are harmless and not cause for concern. If, however, they continue and become more intense, last longer than usual, and are accompanied by back pain and cramping that does not subside, they may be a sign of actual labor. A woman should immediately contact her doctor if she suspects that she is in labor.