Braxton Hicks contractions are sporadic uterine contractions that start about 6 weeks into your pregnancy, although you won’t be able to feel them that early. You probably won’t start to notice them until sometime after mid-pregnancy, if you notice them at all. (Some women don’t.) They get their name from John Braxton Hicks, an English doctor who first described them in 1872.
As your pregnancy progresses, Braxton Hicks contractions tend to come somewhat more often, but until you get to your last few weeks, they’ll probably remain infrequent, irregular, and essentially painless. Sometimes, though, Braxton Hicks contractions are hard to distinguish from early signs of preterm laborPlay it safe and don’t try to make the diagnosis yourself. If you haven’t hit 37 weeks yet and you’re having more than four contractions in an hour — or you have any other signs of preterm labor — call your caregiver immediately.
By the time you’re within a couple of weeks of your due date, your cervix has likely begun to “ripen” or gradually soften up in preparation for labor. Your contractions may get more intense and more frequent, and they may cause some discomfort. Unlike the earlier painless and sporadic Braxton Hicks contractions, which caused no obvious cervical changes, these contractions may help your cervix thin out (efface) and maybe even open up (dilate) a bit. This period is sometimes referred to as pre-labor.