What Are Braxton Hicks Contractions?

The final weeks of pregnancy for intended parents can be incredibly exciting, but also filled with anxiety. Both you and your surrogate are likely to be in examination mode, attempting to decode every twinge she feels in anticipation of the big day. Part of this process will generally include something called Braxton Hicks contractions.  

These contractions, named for the doctor who first described them, are not to be confused with real labor contractions. While they can be just as intense as real labor contractions, they are just the uterus “practicing” in preparation for the real labor that is forthcoming.

These practice contractions can begin as early as 6 weeks into the pregnancy, though they’re not usually felt until the late second or third trimesters. They are rarely a cause for concern. They can be triggered by any number of things and are often associated with dehydration, an overly active day, sex, or a full bladder.

The most general way to tell if a contraction is a real labor contraction or a false labor contraction is with consistent monitoring. There are many apps available for both Apple and Android smartphones that can allow your surrogate to monitor the frequency and duration of her contractions. On some apps, your surrogate can send you a report of her recordings via email.

Contractions that indicate real labor will be cyclical, occurring at a predictable interval, and building in strength and duration over the course of several hours. These contractions will not be made less intense by walking, increasing fluids, or resting. These contractions are working on opening the cervix and preparing the body for delivery.

Conversely, Braxton Hicks contractions occur sporadically and will likely taper off in intensity and frequency over the course of several hours. Often times they will stop entirely with moderate walking, an increase in fluids, or rest. These contractions are not causing a change to the cervix and will not lead to a birth.

Remember that your surrogate has experienced childbirth before, and likely has experience with both true and false labor contractions. Generally, you do not need to contact your OB/GYN unless the contractions are occurring 4 or more times per hour or become cyclical or stronger in intensity.

Dr. Kim Bergman

Kim Bergman, PhD, a licensed psychologist of 22 years, has specialized in the area of gay and lesbian parenting, parenting by choice and third party assisted reproduction for the last two decades. Dr. Bergman has created a comprehensive psychological screening, support and monitoring process for Intended Parents, Surrogates and Donors. She is the co-owner of Fertility Counseling Services and Growing Generations and is a member of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, the American Fertility Association, the American Psychological Association, the Los Angeles County Psychological Association, the Lesbian and Gay Psychotherapy Association, and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. She is on the national board of the Family Equality Council. Dr. Bergman writes, teaches and speaks extensively on parenting by choice. Along with co-authors, she published “Gay Men Who Become Fathers via Surrogacy: The Transition to Parenthood” (Journal of GLBT Family Studies, April 2010). Dr. Bergman created her own family using third party assisted reproduction and she lives with her wife of 28 years and their two teenage daughters.