Braxton Hicks Contractions
During your pregnancy you may start to feel a tightening and discomfort in your abdomen, but don’t panic! This is not a sign that you’re ready to give birth. You’re more likely to be having Braxton Hicks contractions, sometimes referred to as ‘practice’ or ‘false’ contractions.
What are Braxton Hicks Contractions?
Braxton Hicks contractions are a sign that your uterus is getting ready for birth. They can start from around week 7 but most women won’t feel them until the later stages of their pregnancy, and some women won’t feel them at all. If this is your first pregnancy, you might not notice these contractions until around week 16 of your pregnancy. For some women expecting their second or later child, you may feel them earlier on and more frequently, as your body responds to being pregnant again.
These contractions help to tone the muscles of your uterus and can also help the cervix to prepare for the birth. Braxton Hicks contractions are not a sign that you are going into labour and they do not cause the onset of labour.
What do they feel like?
They can feel slightly different from woman to woman, but generally you will notice and feel a tightening of the muscles across your belly and lower abdomen. If you place your hands on your lower belly during one of the contractions, you may feel the uterus becoming hard as the muscles contract and tighten.
While you might experience discomfort, it is rare for Braxton Hicks contractions to be painful.
How are they different from labour pains?
There are a few ways to tell the difference between a Braxton Hicks contraction and a labour contraction. Generally Braxton Hicks contractions will:
- Last for around 30 seconds
- Cause discomfort but aren’t painful
- Occur a few times throughout the day, usually once or twice every hour
- Not escalate in the level of discomfort
- Not occur closer together
- Stop if you change your position or activity
During the later stages of your pregnancy you may find that you notice Braxton Hicks contractions occurring more frequently, even every 10 minutes or so! This is normal as your body prepares itself for going into labour and giving birth. You might hear this referred to as prelabour.
How can I ease the discomfort?
Braxton Hicks contractions are perfectly normal and do not usually require any formal treatment. As Braxton Hicks contractions aren’t labour contractions, you can try to ease your discomfort with a few different methods of relaxing. This can include:
Taking a warm bath – the hot water can help soothe and relax your muscles
Using a hot water battle – similarly placing a hot water bottle on your muscles can help ease the discomfort
Taking a break – frequent Braxton Hicks contractions can be a sign that you’re doing much. Taking a break to rest or lay down and relax can ease the tension in your body
Staying hydrated – dehydration can cause cramping and increase discomfort, so remember to drink plenty of water
Remembering to take regular toilet breaks – a full bladder can irritate the uterus and similarly increase the discomfort of Braxton Hicks contractions, so take breaks regularly
Practicing your breathing – Much like these contractions are your body getting ready, or ‘practicing’, for labour, using them as an opportunity to practice your deep breathing could be the perfect way to ease discomfort!
It’s often worth trying a few different methods to find the ones that work best for you. It’s a good idea to become familiar with how Braxton Hicks contractions feel for you, so you can pick up on any changes and developments.
Generally any one of the above methods, or similar methods, will ease or stop the discomfort of Braxton Hicks contractions. If you find this is not the case, or the contractions feel different to how you have previously experienced them, you should speak with your doctor or midwife as soon as possible, just to be on the safe side.
Should I call my midwife?
As mentioned before, while uncomfortable Braxton Hicks contractions do not usually cause any pain, and can be alleviated by using some of the methods suggested above. If at any point you feel sharp continued pain in your abdomen, pelvis or lower back, and the pain increases or will not subside, these could be the first signs of going into labour. If you are:
Less than 37 weeks pregnant – You should call your doctor or midwife immediately, as this could be a sign of premature labour. Your doctor or midwife will check your cervix to see if you are dilating, and if this is the case, they will most likely admit you to your nearest hospital so they can ensure the best care is provided to you and your baby.
Over 37 weeks pregnant – It is likely your midwife will have discussed this with you and advised you should be safe to wait until your labour is further along. Most midwives recommend waiting until your waters have broken, and your contractions are strong and no longer than 5-minutes apart before going to hospital.
What if I’m unsure?
If you are unsure you should contact your doctor or midwife, especially if at any stage of your pregnancy you experience:
- Sharp, continued abdominal pain
- Irregular vaginal bleeding
- Your baby’s movement slows or stop completely
Your doctor or midwife are always the best point of contact when seeking medical guidance relating to your pregnancy. At the very least they will be able to reassure you, provide support, and when needed, professional medical treatment to ensure you are your baby are kept healthy for the duration of your pregnancy and birth.