What do Braxton Hicks Feel like? Here’s an expert midwife’s answer

Caitlin - Midwife at The Baby Academy

Yes, you’ve probably heard of them but are not too sure what they are – don’t worry, you’re not alone!

Braxton Hicks contractions are your body’s way of preparing for labour and are usually experienced towards the end of your pregnancy. 

While you gear up for the big arrival, we have the low-down on Braxton Hicks contractions, what they are and what you can expect. 

What are Braxton Hicks contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions are sometimes known as false labour pains or ‘practice’ contractions and are not actual labour contractions. They are the body’s way of preparing for labour and happen when the uterine muscles contract and relax, although they are not actually opening the cervix. 

While not all women experience Braxton Hicks contractions, they are completely normal and are nothing to worry about. 

Your midwife will likely discuss Braxton Hicks contractions in detail with you, and if you have any queries about them, they are on hand to support you at any time. 

When do Braxton Hicks start?

Not all women will experience Braxton Hicks contractions during their pregnancy. However, if you are going to, you’re more than likely to feel them during the second or third trimester.

Some expectant mothers don’t feel Braxton Hicks contractions until just before labour, it depends on the individual and their body.

What does Braxton Hicks feel like?

Braxton Hicks contractions can be slightly uncomfortable, but they are painless. The contractions will come and go in waves and are caused by the uterine muscles tightening. 

Some women who experience Braxton Hicks contractions liken them to mild menstrual cramps or a sporadic tightening and skin stretching in a specific area of the stomach. 

How long do Braxton Hicks last?

Braxton Hicks contractions are unpredictable, however, typically, this type of contraction will last between 30 and 60 seconds. While the duration varies, they differ from true labour contractions because they will not get stronger or increase in length or frequency over time.

Why will I get Braxton Hicks? 

There is no way to tell whether you will get Braxton Hicks contractions during your pregnancy, as there is no explanation as to why some women experience them and others don’t. 

However, there are several factors that have been recognised in triggering them, such as: 

  • Being highly active.
  • Someone touching your bump. 
  • Your baby’s movements. 
  • Having sex.
  • Being dehydrated.
  • Having a full bladder. 

What is the difference between Braxton Hicks and contractions?

If you experience a tightening of the muscles inside your stomach before the end of your 37th week of pregnancy, you might be concerned that you are going into early labour. 

You might also wonder, at full term, whether the contractions you are feeling are simply another episode of Braxton Hicks or if you are going into full labour. 

The dilation of the cervix will only happen when true labour contractions start, and there are a host of differences between Braxton Hicks contractions and labour contractions to help you know what you are experiencing: 

Braxton Hicks Contractions:

  • Braxton Hicks contractions vary in length and strength.
  • Are felt in the front of the body.
  • Do not become more intense and frequent.
  • Lessen and disappear and reappear at a later date.
  • Are more uncomfortable than painful.
  • Contractions may lessen or stop when changing position or activity.

True Labour Contractions:

  • Labour Contractions are noticeably, and increasingly longer.
  • Labour contractions often begin in your lower back and abdomen.
  • You experience a steady increase in the strength and duration of labour contractions.
  • Increase in intensity and are more regular.
  • Are painful
  • Contractions should not stop or slow down

While Braxton Hicks contractions may cause a little discomfort, it is your body’s natural way of preparing you for the big day when you go into labour. If you have any questions about Braxton Hicks contractions, contact your midwife who will be more than happy to help.

Treatment for Braxton Hicks contractions

There is no treatment for Braxton Hicks contractions, however, there are several things you can try to ease them, such as: 

  • Drinking some water to rehydrate.
  • Changing position. 
  • Lying down if you have been active. 
  • Relaxing activities, such as a warm bath, nap, massage or reading a book. 
  • Going for a stroll if you have been inactive/sitting down for a long time. 

When to be concerned about Braxton Hicks

You should contact your midwife or maternity unit for advice if you are not sure if you are having true labour contractions or Braxton Hicks. 

If the tightening continues, especially if you are less than 37 weeks pregnant, you should also seek advice. 

Contact your midwife or maternity unit immediately if:

  • Your waters break.
  • You experience any vaginal bleeding.
  • If you are experiencing painful contractions and are not yet 37 weeks
  • You are worried about your baby’s movement as babies should maintain their normal movement pattern right up until they are born.

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