By the YeahBaby.com editorial staff
Braxton Hicks contractions were named after John Braxton Hicks (1823-1897), an English gynecologist, who first described them in 1872.
The onset of Braxton Hicks contractions, also known as ''false labor'', can happen as early as midterm of your pregnancy. Braxton Hicks contractions are defined as brief, irregular periods of contractions where the muscles of the uterus tighten up for 30 to 60 seconds. They typically occur during or following physical activity and usually are not very painful, just a little uncomfortable. The contractions may become more intense and painful as your pregnancy progresses. If the Braxton Hicks contractions become uncomfortable, drink some water - dehydration can lead to irritation of the uterus, take a walk, lay down and rest, or enjoy a warm bath.
Braxton Hicks contractions are believed to be a part of the prelabor process, exercising your uterus muscles for the great task ahead: delivery. They aid the process of effacement and dilation (the thinning out and opening of the cervix).
Many women ask their physicians or parent friends how they can tell the difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and real labor. The typical answer is that they will know real labor when it begins. Braxton Hicks contractions may intensify towards the end of pregnancy, but will still be irregular in frequency, duration and intensity and may go away. If the contractions seem to be letting up, they are likely Braxton Hicks contractions.
Real labor is defined by regular and intense contractions, typically no more than five minutes apart with at least 12 contractions per hour. It is vital to obtain advice from your practitioner about when to go in to the hospital, and to communicate with them any contractions you have had.