Braxton Hicks Contractions
What are Braxton Hicks contractions? Braxton Hicks contractions are when your abdomen tightens like a contraction causing some discomfort - think of them as a practice run for the 'real thing'. While not a full blown birthing contraction, they are a contraction of your uterus preparing your body for giving birth and toning the muscles and preparing your cervix.
What are Braxton Hicks contractions?
Braxton Hicks contractions are when your abdomen tightens like a contraction causing some discomfort - think of them as a practice run for the 'real thing'. While not a full blown birthing contraction, they are a contraction of your uterus preparing your body for giving birth and toning the muscles and preparing your cervix.
What do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like?
Braxton Hicks contractions feel like your stomach is tightening, they are usually painless, a little uncomfortable and start at the top of your uterine muscles and spread downwards. They cause your tummy to become hard and sometimes shaped funny as it tightens. As you get closer to your estimated due date, they may become more frequent and intense.
If you're a first-time mama-to-be, you may not notice them as much or feel them as intensely as someone pregnant for the second time.
When do Braxton Hicks contractions start?
Braxton Hicks contractions can begin any time around week 20 of pregnancy, though they're more noticeable closer to your due date. From around 32 weeks they will increase through to when real labour starts.
What causes Braxton Hicks contractions?
Wonderful pregnancy hormones! They're sending messages to your body to slowly get your body ready for childbirth.
How long do Braxton Hicks contractions last?
Braxton Hicks contractions can last between 15 and 30 seconds, some have been known to last as long as two minutes.
What is false labour?
False labour is 'fake news' ha ha! When you're body feels the sensation like you're going into labour - usually becasue Braxton Hicks are doing some 'warm ups'.
What are the signs of false labour?
In general, false labour signs include:
- Braxton Hicks contractions that cause low uterine pain similar to period pain.
- Contractions that are inconsistent in time, don't get stronger and come and go.
- Contractions that reduce or go when you change position, rest or move a bit.
True vs. false labour: How can you tell the difference?
Look out for for the following signs of each to see what you might be experiencing if you're not sure. The difference is usually connected to the frequency, intensity and location of the contractions.
- Your contractions occur at regular intervals, follow a pattern, and get stronger, longer and closer together over time. Contractions that are consistent and intensify over time are real. False labour contractions, on the other hand, are less regular and weaken over time. True labour contractions usually last about 30 to 70 seconds each, and they don't ease up with a change in activity or position. Each one feels like a very strong menstrual cramp. The purpose of true labour contractions is to thin and dilate the cervix, whereas false contractions (Braxton Hicks) are just practice for the real thing. Real contractions may also be accompanied by other common labour signs, including a pinkish or blood-streaked discharge known as bloody show.
- Your contractions are accompanied by a trickle that doesn't stop. Your water has likely broken, which is a sure sign of real labour. Amniotic fluid is odourless, so if you detect a sour smell, it’s just urine (and false labour).
- You have nausea or diarrhoea (or both) with your contractions. Alas, true labour sometimes also comes with an upset stomach. False labour doesn't.
- You notice contractions in the front of your belly but the pain goes away when you change positions. True labour contractions usually start in the lower back and shift to the front — and they don’t get better when you switch positions, move around or rest.
- You have no discharge or it's brownish in colour. When you're really in labour, you might see red or pink discharge called bloody show.
- Your contractions are irregular and infrequent and only last about 15 to 30 seconds (two minutes at most). While the pain is real, this labour is probably not. Instead, it’s likely false contractions at work, toning your uterine muscles and prepping your cervix for birth. True contractions last a good bit longer, often 30 to 70 seconds, and come more regularly and frequently over time.
Is it normal to have no Braxton Hicks contractions?
Having no Braxton Hicks contractions is completely normal, and it won't be a problem when it comes time to deliver your baby.
Some pregnant women, especially first-timers, don't notice their Braxton Hicks. Others may not know what they are when they do feel them.
While they're quite intense in some women, especially those who've had a baby before, they can be so mild in others (just a slight tightening of the abdomen) that they're overlooked.
In any case, don't worry if you're not experiencing Braxton Hicks, as you simply may not be tuned in to them, or you may get them later in your pregnancy. Some women feel Braxton Hicks in the second trimester, others in the third. Once you get closer to your due date, they can become stronger and more frequent (though not always!). Regardless, feel free to check in with your doctor to get your questions answered and for reassurance that all is humming along normally.
What you can do about Braxton Hicks contractions
- Drink up. Even minor dehydration can cause these practice contractions.
- Move. Try changing your position during a painful contraction — if you're sitting, stand up (and vice versa). Walking and resting can both make a difference too.
- Visualise. Use these contractions as a chance to practice the breathing and visualisation techniques you've learned in your childbirth education class. (Your partner or coach can practice too!)
When to call the doctor
Don’t hesitate to call your health care provider if you feel uncomfortable, concerned or unsure about any pre-labour or pregnancy symptoms (or lack thereof) or don't know whether what you're feeling are labour contractions or Braxton Hicks. Labour signs can be confusing, and preterm labour can be particularly tricky to pinpoint, so it’s always best to talk to your doctor or midwife.
If your practitioner tells you to come in, it might turn out to be a false alarm and an unnecessary trip — but you’d be far from the only mom-to-be who’s gone to the doctor's or hospital thinking she was in labour when she wasn't. Pre-labour can last for a few hours or a month or more, and signs and symptoms can be different for every person (and every pregnancy).
Since it isn't always easy to tell whether you're in labour on your own, get your practitioner’s help. That’s what she’s there for. And sooner or later, you’ll hear those magic words: "This baby is on the way!"