Braxton Hicks

Braxton Hicks contractions are the body’s way of preparing for labour, but if you have them it doesn’t mean your labour has started. Here, we explain more about Braxton Hicks.

What are Braxton Hicks?

Braxton Hicks are when the womb contracts and relaxes. Sometimes they are known as false labour pains.

Not all women will have Braxton Hicks contractions. If you do, you’ll usually feel them during the second or third trimester.

Braxton Hicks are completely normal and many women experience them during pregnancy. Your midwife will probably talk to you about them at some point, and you can ask questions at any time. You may also learn more about them during antenatal classes.

What do Braxton Hicks feel like?

They may be uncomfortable, but they are not painful. Women often describe Braxton Hicks contractions as feeling like mild menstrual cramps or a tightening in a specific area of the stomach that comes and goes.

"I find them like a mild stitch that goes almost as quickly as it comes. Not painful but you're definitely aware it's there. You will soon realise when you do go into labour that Braxton Hicks cannot be mistaken for labour pains."

Claire

"I have had Braxton Hicks, but I didn't know I was experiencing it - it was only because I was at the day assessment unit because I was concerned with the movements of baby that the midwife told me I was experiencing them. I asked the midwife that saw me if they were 'practice contractions' and she said they weren't contractions."

Kim

"For me the Braxton Hicks make my bump feel really tight as if my skin is being stretched, my bump also goes solid! Although not painful they can feel intense when I am out on a long walk with my family!"

Sarah

Why will I get Braxton Hicks?

We don’t really know why women get Braxton Hicks contractions. But we do know some of the things that trigger them, such as:

  • being very active
  • having a full bladder
  • having sex
  • being dehydrated.

What’s the difference between Braxton Hicks and labour contractions?

Unlike labour contractions, Braxton Hicks contractions:

  • vary in length and strength
  • happen infrequently, are unpredictable and non-rhythmic
  • are more uncomfortable than painful
  • do not increase in frequency, duration or intensity
  • lessen and then disappear, only to reappear at some time in the future.

Compared with Braxton Hicks, labour contractions: 

  • are noticeably, and increasingly, longer
  • are more regular
  • are more frequent
  • are painful
  • increase in intensity.

Nearer the end of your pregnancy, Braxton Hicks contractions may form more of a pattern and increase in frequency and intensity. Lots of women often mistake Braxton Hicks contractions for the start of labour. But, unlike labour contractions, Braxton Hicks contractions do not cause the cervix (the entrance to the womb) to open (dilate).

How are Braxton Hicks contractions treated?

There is no treatment for Braxton Hicks contractions. But there are things you can do to ease them, such as:

  • changing position
  • lying down if you’ve been very active – find out more about exercise in pregnancy
  • going for a walk if you’ve been sitting down for a long time
  • relaxing, such as taking a warm bath, having a massage, or having a nap
  • drinking some water to rehydrate.

When should I contact my midwife?

It’s always best to contact your midwife or maternity unit for advice if you are not sure whether you are having Braxton Hicks or labour contractions.

It’s also a good idea to call them if the tightenings continue, especially if you are less than 37 weeks pregnant.

Call your midwife or maternity unit straight away if:

  • you have any vaginal bleeding
  • your waters break
  • you have strong contractions every five minutes that last 30-60 seconds)
  • these twinges become very painful
  • you have any concerns about your baby’s movements.
 
 

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Sources

Raine, Deborah A.and Cooper Danielle, B (2019) Braxton Hicks Contractions, StatPearls Publishing LLC.

NHS Choices. Signs that labour has begun. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/labour-signs-what-happens/#know-the-signs (Page last reviewed: 09/11/2017 Next review due: 011/2020)

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Last reviewed on July 3rd, 2019. Next review date July 3rd, 2022.

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