What are Braxton Hicks?
Braxton Hicks is the name given to the action when the womb contracts and tightens with your bump becoming hard to touch; it then relaxes again, becoming soft. They usually they start in the second half of the pregnancy but can happen earlier. Many women don’t have them at all. They are often called ‘practise contractions’ but they are NOT contractions.
Sometimes you may feel one or two tightenings in an hour or in a day, but they are usually short, lasting about 20-30 seconds each, irregular and do not continue for a long period of time. Most of the time, women find them to be painless but sometimes they can be uncomfortable.
Why do you get Braxton Hicks?
It is not really known why Braxton Hicks happen. They are usually explained as the body’s way of getting ready for labour, however, although they happen in the third trimester they are not a sign that labour is about to start very soon. They can be triggered by sexual intercourse, if mother or baby is very active, or if someone touches your bump. Braxton Hicks can also happen if you are dehydrated in pregnancy.
How to tell the difference between Braxton Hicks and contractions
- Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if the tightenings are Braxton Hicks or labour is starting.
- Braxton Hicks are not usually painful, are irregular, short and do not continue as ongoing tightenings.
- Labour contractions are painful, last up to about a minute and continue, getting closer together and more intense.
- Labour contractions can also be accompanied by other signs of labour, such as waters breaking and a ‘show’.
How to relieve Braxton Hicks
It can often help by simply changing your position or activity. For example if you have been active sit and rest or if you have been resting then to go for a gentle walk. Having regular sips of water can help if you are dehydrated. If these don’t work, then a warm bath can also help.
When to call a midwife about Braxton Hicks
If you are not sure whether you are having Braxton Hicks or labour contractions it is always best to contact your midwife or maternity unit for advice. If the tightenings continue, especially if you are less than 37 weeks pregnant, then it is more important to contact them and be reviewed.
If you have any of the following call your local maternity unit straightaway for advice:
- the tightenings get increasingly more painful
- your waters break
- you have concerns about your baby’s movements
- you experience any bleeding from the vagina.
What do Braxton Hicks feel like?
We asked women what Braxton Hicks felt like for them and they gave these responses:
‘I felt it the Braxton Hicks in my back as well as my stomach and it felt like the tightness of when you push against a blown up balloon and you can't touch the other side! I was out food shopping at about eight months and got a bout of them, they lasted about 20 seconds but kept having them for about ten minutes, I had to lean over a display as they were uncomfortable, staff kept coming up to me asking if I needed an ambulance.’ Abigail
‘I have Braxton Hicks day and night. They do not stop or let up. I can have between two and eight per hour. My movements can trigger them,( standing up, waking, reaching for something). My baby’s movements trigger them. Touching my tummy triggers them. It feels like there is no letting up from them. They feel a bit stronger the closer I get to my due date, they feel heavy but not painful, just uncomfortable and annoying.’ Amanda
‘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 would say that Braxton Hicks definitely can be regular, but they definitely don't intensify. I had a night where I had them every ten minutes for a few hours. They didn't intensify, even when they started getting closer together, that's when I knew they were not labour pains. Eventually, I got up and just waited and they got closer together and tailed off. Nothing really triggered my Braxton Hicks, I was just feeling them all the time, all day every day.’ Hannah
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
'I felt them at the top of my bump right under my boobs, which went rock hard and uncomfortable. I could usually feel my little one's feet and bum but couldn't during Braxton Hicks as everything was so solid. They also seemed to last 20-30 minutes, but that may have been lots of them in a row. I went in with reduced movement twice and they were picked up both times on the monitor and there was a very short time in between hence why it felt like they were continuous. I got them mostly when I was cooking dinner so for me they were linked to hunger lol!' Marie
‘For me the Braxton Hicks 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
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ℹLast reviewed on August 29th, 2017. Next review date August 30th, 2020.