Pregnancy and Birth

Braxton Hicks contractions explained

Hands holding pregnancy bump

If you are expecting a baby, you are probably very alert to all the changes happening in your body. Growing a little person is an entirely new experience so it’s worth knowing what to expect. Every twinge or ache can cause concern, so knowing about Braxton Hicks contractions can help put your mind at ease.

What are Braxton Hicks contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions (so named for the doctor who defined them) are muscle contractions that happen periodically in the uterus. These can occur as early as 6 weeks, but you’re not likely to feel them until the second or third trimester.

What do they feel like?

These contractions can feel like a tightening of the muscles around the abdominal area. If you place your hands on your abdomen as they happen, you can feel your bump harden. These contractions occur irregularly and usually last for about 30 seconds.

Why does this happen?

As with any part of your body that is preparing for intense activity, your uterus is ‘practicing’ for the main event – labour. Just as you would warm up before a workout or any kind of sport, your uterus is simply limbering up. It’s getting the muscles ready to do some serious work to push your baby down the birth canal during labour. When you think about it, your body is quite amazing, isn’t it?

What can trigger Braxton Hicks contractions?

There are many things that can trigger these contractions. Exercise, a full bladder (or emptying your bladder), having sex, baby’s movement, dehydration, moving after sitting/lying still for a while. Unfortunately, Braxton Hicks are most likely to be more intense at night. That’s when the hormones that increase the contractions of your uterine muscle predominate. Having a good pregnancy pillow may help you to feel more comfortable at night, which might help.

Are they painful?

Generally, Braxton Hicks are more uncomfortable than painful. They can feel rather like period cramps or sudden twinges. The good news is that, unlike labour pains, they don’t increase in intensity.

Braxton Hicks v Labour – how to tell the difference

If you haven’t experienced Braxton Hicks contractions before, you may be worried that this heralds the onset of labour. This isn’t the case. Labour pains are very different in that they are regular, longer, and increase in intensity. Braxton hicks are mild and irregular, and if you move around or change position, these contractions usually go away after a few minutes.

How do I know if it’s labour?

If the contractions increase in intensity, frequency and become painful, it’s most likely to be labour pains and you will need to grab your hospital bag. If they are accompanied by discharge, leaking of amniotic fluid (waters breaking), bleeding, it’s definitely time to head to the hospital as labour is starting.

Remember – Braxton Hicks are a normal symptom of pregnancy and, while they can be uncomfortable, they are not harmful to you or your baby. However, if you are concerned in any way, always listen to your gut and speak to your medical professional.

Next article: How to choose the best pregnancy pillow

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Hands holding pregnancy bump

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