What the heck are Braxton Hicks? A Guide to Everything you Need to know.

If you’re nearing your due date and feel a tightening in your tummy, your heart may skip a beat! “This is it!” you may think. As you start to wonder if labor contractions are starting… But just like your body would need to prepare to run a marathon…sometimes your body needs to prepare for the transformational experience of birth! One of the main ways you may sense that your body is gearing up for labor, is if you feel Braxton Hicks contractions. 

But what exactly are Braxton Hicks contractions? We’ve answered your top 10 questions to put your mind at ease. Let’s take a look!

What are Braxton Hicks Contractions?

As you near your due date, your body will start to prepare for labor. Your uterus has a big job to do and may need to get ready! That’s why you may experience Braxton Hicks contractions. 

Braxton Hicks contractions are a tightening and relaxing of your uterus’ muscles. These “contractions” help tone your uterus muscles to practice for “real” labor contractions and may also help soften your cervix for birth!

Braxton Hicks contractions are often referred to as “false labor” pains, because the sensations are sporadic and don’t necessarily mean that labor has begun or will start anytime soon (NCBI).

Braxton Hicks Contractions — When Do They Start?

Braxton Hicks contractions can start as early as 6 weeks into your pregnancy. But most birthing parents won’t feel them until the second or third trimester. The contractions can become more noticeable as you near your due date — which means you’re most likely to experience Braxton Hicks contractions during your third trimester.

But don’t worry if you don’t experience it… that’s totally normal too! Some birthing parents won’t experience these contractions, or even notice that they’re happening! This can be especially true if you’re a first time parent. 

If this isn’t your first pregnancy, you may be more aware of these contractions and possibly feel them even earlier in your pregnancy. 

Just remember that every person is different! 

Braxton Hicks contractions are not an indicator of how healthy your uterus is or how your labor will go. Just like with labor, there’s no way to know what your experience will be like. And unfortunately there’s no way to predict if you’ll experience it or not.

What Causes Braxton Hicks Contractions? 

Braxton Hicks contractions are most likely caused by a release of hormones that are preparing your body for birth. There are also a few activities that may trigger it. These activities include:

  • When you are very active
  • If your bladder is full
  • After sexual activity
  • If you get dehydrated

Keep an eye on your body, especially if you can relate to one of the four experiences above!

What Do Braxton Hicks Feel Like?

You may be wondering what sensations to look out for… The good news is that unlike labor contractions, Braxton Hicks contractions usually don’t hurt! You may feel a little uncomfortable during the contraction, but the sensation should subside quickly.

But occasionally Braxton Hicks contractions can be stronger, more painful, and may take your breath away. 

Here’s how you can tell if you’re experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions:

  • You feel a strong tightening, similar to period cramps.
  • You may think your baby is “balling up” inside.
  • If you look at your belly, it may look like a different shape than normal — possibly pointy!
  • Your uterus will become hard and your belly may feel firmer than usual when you touch it.

And Braxton Hicks contractions are generally described as (American Pregnancy Association):

  • Irregular in intensity and usually last about 15 to 30 seconds, but sometimes as long as two minutes.
  • Infrequent
  • Unpredictable
  • Non-rhythmic
  • More uncomfortable than painful (although for some women Braxton Hicks can feel painful)
  • They do not increase in intensity or frequency
  • They taper off and then disappear altogether

Where Do You Feel Braxton Hicks Contractions?

If you think you’re feeling some of the sensations listed above, you’ll find that they occur across your uterus, lower abdominal area, and groin. But if at any point you have a question about what you’re feeling, reach out to your healthcare provider for clarification.

How Long Does It Last?

Thankfully, Braxton Hicks contractions usually only last for about 30 seconds. If the discomfort subsides quickly — that’s most likely Braxton Hicks! As you near the end of your pregnancy, you may feel it more frequently — even every 10-20 minutes. 

But you may be wondering how to tell the difference between Braxton Hicks and regular labor contractions. Let’s take a look at the main differences between the two. 

Braxton Hicks vs. Labor Contractions… How Do You Know the Difference? 

As you get closer to your due date, Braxton Hicks contractions may happen more frequently — and even become more painful — which can make you think you’re starting to go into labor.

But there are several tell-tale signs that will help you to know whether you’re actually experiencing labor contractions, or your body is still just “prepping” for the big event (American Pregnancy Association)!

Braxton Hicks contractions:

  • Don’t result in your cervix thinning and opening
  • Can be uncomfortable, but usually aren’t painful
  • Come and go at irregular times
  • Usually occur no more than once or twice an hour (until late in the pregnancy), a few times a day
  • Usually stop if you change position or activity or go for a walk
  • Usually go away if you have a warm bath or shower

Whereas, real labor contractions:

  • Result in your cervix thinning and opening
  • Last 30 to 70 seconds
  • Become very regular
  • Get closer together
  • Last longer as time goes by
  • Get stronger or come more often when you walk
  • Generally get stronger over time

How to Tell if You’re in “True Labor”?

If you think that you’re experiencing labor contractions — rather than Braxton Hicks contractions — then you’re probably experiencing contractions that are getting stronger, longer, and closer together.

At this point, you can start to look for other signs of early labor that can help confirm that you’re experiencing the beginning of labor. These signs include:

  • Bloody show (pinkish or blood-tinged discharge)
  • Your waters breaking
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea

How Do You Ease Braxton Hicks Contractions?

If you’ve ruled out labor contractions you may be wondering how to ease the discomfort of Braxton Hicks contractions. The good news is that there are a few things you can try that should ease any pain or discomfort (Mayo Clinic):

  • Change positions. You can lie down if you have been standing or go for a walk if you have been sitting or laying down.
  • Take a warm bath for 30 minutes or less.
  • Drink a couple glasses of water. Contractions may be brought on by dehydration.
  • Drink a warm cup of herbal tea or milk.

You can also use these contractions to practice the visualization and breathing techniques that you’d like to use in labor!

When Should You be Concerned About Braxton Hicks Contractions?

If you’re less than 37 weeks pregnant, contractions can be a sign of premature labor. You’ll want to contact your healthcare provider if you experience:

  • Pain, pressure or discomfort in your pelvis, abdomen or lower back.
  • Contractions that become stronger, closer together and more regular.
  • Fluid leaking or gushing from your vagina.

At your earlier prenatal appointments, it’s a good idea to ask your healthcare provider for what symptoms to keep an eye out for, and when they’d like you to reach out to them. That way you have an idea of what’s “OK” or if you need to reach out for medical help. 

And of course — always reach out to your doctor if you’re uncomfortable, concerned, or unsure if you’re experiencing labor pains. If you have any doubts at all — call your healthcare provider.

Want to be Fully Prepared for Labor? 

As you get closer to your due date, it may feel like you have a million questions about early labor and birth…

  • What should you expect during early labor?
  • What comfort tools can help ease pain and discomfort? 
  • What interventions are healthy for you and your baby?

If you’re desiring a positive birth experience — you’re going to want access to the best, evidence-based information to help prepare you for birth! 

But going into birth without knowing what to expect, what your options are, and how to handle any curve balls that come along the way can make birth really hard. 

That’s where taking a childbirth education class is one of the best ways to prepare you and your partner to welcome your new baby into the world. If you’ve been wanting a clear and easy path to help you prepare for a confident birth experience…Check out Birth Dates

The Birth Dates course will help you and your partner to feel fully ready — and even excited! — to enter into labor, so that you can have less pain, fewer interventions, and feel safe, loved and connected as you give birth TOGETHER!

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