What Causes Contractions During Pregnancy? Here's What To Know When You're Expecting

Ad failed to load

Even if you're new to this whole pregnancy thing, I think it's safe to assume you're familiar with contractions. You know, those "lovely," painful things that happen when you're in labor? The "cramps" that signify the start of childbirth? Yeah, those things. But did you know that you're likely to experience a few contractions prior to labor? Pregnancy is filled with "fun" little surprises, you guys. But what causes contractions during pregnancy? And perhaps more importantly, when should a pregnancy contraction send you to the nearest hospital, or at least warrant a call to your health care provider? Thankfully, more than a few experts have the answers that should help you remain cool, calm, and collected when your muscles decide to go rouge.

One of the biggest causes of contractions during pregnancy is simply being pregnant, according to the American Pregnancy Association (APA). Contractions that aren't part of active labor are called Braxton Hicks contractions and, according to the APA, "The term originated in 1872 when an English doctor named John Braxton Hicks described the contractions that occur before real labor." Those contractions can happen just because you're pregnant, and aren't necessarily a cause for alarm.

So, how will you know if your contractions are Braxton Hicks or active labor? The Bump explains that there are a few ways you can tell, reporting the following:

Ad failed to load
"One of the key differences between Braxton Hicks contractions vs real contractions is that they’re irregular while labor contractions are consistent. But pain levels are a factor too."

The Bump went on to explain that if you get up and move around and your contractions subside, that typically means they are Braxton Hicks. Additionally, Braxton Hicks contractions are only felt in the front, whereas "real" contractions start in the back and move to the front.

Ad failed to load

According to What To Expect, Braxton Hicks contractions can start during your second trimester, but are more likely to happen during your third trimester. They can be more common to experience during the end of the day, when your body is (understandably) tired, and they can last anywhere from 30 to 120 seconds.

Braxton Hicks contractions can also be caused by a few variables you'll probably want to pay attention to, no only to increase your comfort but to ensure that your pregnancy remains healthy. According to Parents, Braxton Hicks contractions can be caused by dehydration, too much activity by either mother or baby, someone touching a woman's pregnant belly, sexual activity, or either a full bladder or a urinary tract infection. Obviously, if you think you might be dehydrated, try making sure you're getting more water throughout the day. Likewise, if you have other symptoms of a urinary tract infection, it's important you see your health care provider to treat the infection and relieve the Braxton Hicks contractions, according to Today's Parent.

If you've ruled out the aforementioned causes, and still find yourself experiencing Braxton Hicks, there are things you can try in order to gain some relief. If too much activity or exercise isn't likely the cause of your contractions, you can try getting up and moving around a little. According to Fit pregnancy, changing positions can help stop the contractions.

Ad failed to load

If you think over-activity is the cause of your Braxton Hicks, rest! Braxton Hicks contractions can be your body's way of telling you to slow down and take it easy while you're growing your baby. The Bump explains, reporting: "If you experience contractions after exercising or moving around a lot, it’s important to put your feet up."


There are a few reasons you would want to get checked by a doctor if you think you're having Braxton Hicks contractions. According to New Kids-Center, if Braxton Hicks contractions are accompanied by low back pain or pressure, you need to head to a doctor to get checked out. The doctor will check to see if you're dilating, and if you're not, that indicates that you are not in pre-term labor, or even starting active labor, and instead are experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions. Like the old saying goes, it's better to be safe than sorry.

Ad failed to load

Additionally, New Kids-Center explains that if you are past 37 weeks in your pregnancy, you'll want to get checked if you have more than four Braxton Hicks contractions in an hour, if they're accompanied by spotting or bleeding, or if you feel increased pressure between your legs. Remember, that's what your health care providers are there for: to assist you throughout your pregnancy, even if your contractions end up being nothing more than a "false alarm."

Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:

Ad failed to load

Watch full episodes of Romper's Doula Diaries on Facebook Watch.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

The Entire Family Can Enjoy These Movies & Shows Coming To Netflix In June

It's just one of those sad facts of life: every month, shows and movies vanish from Netflix, their varied excitements no longer at your fingertips. But luckily the streaming service is always prepared to fill that content void with lots of new things…
By Megan Walsh

The Reason Why Babies Smile At You Will Seriously Make You Smile

Whether you're currently the recipient of your own baby's sweet smiles or you just seem to be a magnet for baby grins in general, you might find yourself wondering why babies are always smiling at you. Sure, you could be a 'smile whisperer' but scien…
By Kate Miller

8 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say That, Yes, You Are Their Favorite

For a baby to show a preference for a specific person is not only normal, but an essential part of their development. Babies need to form strong attachments to their caregivers for their emotional, social, and physical wellbeing. Usually, but not alw…
By Kimmie Fink

10 Reasons Why I Won't Apologize For Giving My Toddler A Pacifier

My first child had no interest in a pacifier. I tried a couple times to get him to take one, but he always spat them out and gave me an incredulous, judgmental look. But my second? It was love at first suckle. And after a while, the incredulous, judg…
By Jamie Kenney

Being A Dog Parent Prepared Me For Having A Baby, Really

I’ve always wanted kids; I was never as sure about raising a puppy. Then I spent six months living with someone who brought home an eight-week-old golden retriever puppy, and I see no way to make it out of that experience claiming not to love dogs. I…
By Heather Caplan

20 Of The Most Popular Unisex Names Of All Time, That You'll Be Hearing More Of For Sure

You might think of unisex names as a fairly recent trend, but the truth is these versatile monikers have been commonly used throughout history (well, some more commonly than others). That's why the team over at recently compiled a list of t…
By Jacqueline Burt Cote

How To Have A Date Night With No Babysitter, Because It's Easier Than You Think

After having children, many couples feel that their love lives immediately go out the window, but it's so important to make your romantic life a priority so both you and your partner can be the best versions of yourselves you can be. As we all know, …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

9 Ways Baby No. 3 Made My Family Feel Complete

My husband and I decided to have another baby right after we got married and, well, we had no idea what we were getting into. I got pregnant right away, endured a high-risk pregnancy, and, before I knew it, my third baby had arrived. Together, we emb…
By Steph Montgomery

8 Stereotypes About New Dads That Are *Totally* True

Much like new mothers, new fathers have a lot on their plate. Parenting can be scary and complex, especially at first and regardless of your gender. People want to do right by their kids, after all. And since all new parents are a hot mess, dads are …
By Priscilla Blossom

8 Differences Between Being Pregnant In Your 20s Vs 30s, According To Science

Whether you're planning a pregnancy, or just thinking about your future family, it's typical to think about things like child-spacing, how many kids you want, and when to start trying to conceive. When making your pro/con list, you might also conside…
By Steph Montgomery

16 Moms Share Remedies For Their Most Intense Chocolate Cravings During Pregnancy

For better or worse, pregnancy is usually synonymous with odd cravings. Sure, there are the stereotypical combos like pickles and ice cream that plague gestating women the world over, but there are other mind-boggling combinations, too, including but…
By Candace Ganger

Putting Sunscreen On Your Kid Doesn't Have To Be A Fight — Here's How To Do It

I am almost translucent, so me and sunscreen are basically besties at this point. Even though my children are beautifully deep brown thanks to my husband's genetics, I still slather them like biscuits being buttered because I refuse to take risks wit…
By Cat Bowen

19 Moms Share The Way They Cured Their Pregnancy Comfort Food Cravings

I was obnoxiously sick during the first trimester with, "lucky" for me, both of my pregnancies. For the first three months I lived on saltines, lemonade, and fresh bread. Once I was able to eat, however, all I wanted was savory and sweet comfort food…
By Dina Leygerman

8 Fascinating Facts About Babies Born In May, The Luckiest Month Of All

The height of all things fresh and springy, May is an excellent month to have a baby. It's a time of growth, graduations, and outdoor celebrations. And these fascinating facts about May babies will give you more reasons than ever to appreciate childr…
By Lindsay E. Mack

I Used To Judge Formula-Feeding Moms — Until I Became One

The other patrons in the hip Brooklyn restaurant probably couldn’t care less what I was feeding my baby, but I’ll always remember the shame I felt as I quickly mixed up his bottle of formula in front of them. I admitted to my childless friend that I …
By Katherine Martinelli

7 White Lies It’s Necessary To Tell To Keep Your Relationship Healthy

Telling lots of lies typically isn't associated with a healthy, strong, lasting relationship, and that's still certainly true, but not all lies are exactly the same. Though you've probably heard from someone at least once or twice that the lie they t…
By Lauren Schumacker

The Skinny Jeans That Saved Me Postpartum

Accepting my post-pregnancy body is hands-down one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It’s something that I still work on every single day. During my first pregnancy, I was 20 years old, so I managed to bounce back quickly. In fact, I dropp…
By Allison Cooper

7 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say They Feel Safe

In those first weeks of new motherhood, it can feel like you need an interpreter for your newborn. With their limited means of communication, figuring out what message your baby is trying to get across to you can be a challenge. With time, however, y…
By Kimmie Fink

Here's Why Dogs Are Obsessed With Babies' Poop, According To Science

Most family dogs seem to understand babies, and they're more than happy to make friends with the newest member of the pack. It's adorable... for the most part and until you go to change your little one's diaper. Suddenly, you're wondering why dogs ar…
By Lindsay E. Mack

6 Signs You're Meant To Have A Big Age Gap Between Kids

There's a five year age difference between my two children, to the day. Their age gap wasn't planned but, for a variety of reasons, works well for our family. And since I was so focused on having a second baby, I totally overlooked the signs that wou…
By Candace Ganger

My Dog Knew I Was Pregnant Before My Family Did

Growing up, I was 100 percent sure I'd be a mom one day. To a dog, that is. My baby plans came later. And once my husband and I were sure we wanted both a dog and a baby, we'd add to our joint dog-and-baby name list over Sunday brunch or on date nigh…
By Melissa Mills