Braxton Hicks contractions are the "warm-up" contractions that the helps the uterus prime for labor and delivery. Many women begin to notice them sometime during the second trimester, but some women go the entire pregnancy without noticing them at all.
Braxton Hicks contractions are to blame for many a "false alarm" frantic run to the maternity ward. They range in sensation from slight annoyance to "stabbed in the belly". In either case, sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between the false labor of Braxton Hicks and real labor. If you have cramping before 37 weeks, err on the side of caution and call your doctor. Pregnant women do not lose points for false alarms.
By week 38, most women have Braxton Hicks contractions on a regular basis. While they do help get the cervix ready for labor, the cramps do very little in the way of expelling the baby.
Braxton Hicks are annoying, but they are irregular in frequency and strength. If contractions become regular and increase in strength, place a call to your doctor.
While there is no official way to stop Braxton Hick contractions, they can be managed. If you try the following tips and the cramping doesn't slow down or stop, it could be real labor:
* Take a warm shower or bath (be careful getting in and out of the tub, and don't run the water too hot).
* Do some deep breathing exercises, being careful not to hyperventilate. Maybe take the opportunity to practice breathing and relaxation techniques you learned in childbirth education class.
* Do something else. If you're sitting down, get up and walk. If you're walking or standing, sit down and take a break.
The best way to know the difference between Braxton Hicks and real labor is that real labor doesn't stop or let up no matter what you do. If you see an increase or change in vaginal discharge, have any bleeding, gush of water, low back pressure or recurring menstrual-like cramps, call your doctor or go to the maternity ward and let them figure it out.