Braxton Hicks contractions are painless, irregular uterine contractions, although some women do report feeling discomfort during them.
The contractions do not become more intense, frequent or longer over time.
This is because they are practise contractions and not labour contractions.
Each contraction tends to last for around 30 seconds, although can last up to two minutes.
It's uncommon for women to experience more than four in an hour.
Why Do I Get Braxton Hicks Contractions?
Braxton Hicks contractions are thought to increase blood flow to the uterus and placenta, and aid the transfer of oxygen to your baby. Some health practitioners believe that Braxton Hicks tightenings are the body's way of preparing for labour – a work out for the uterine muscles, if you will. In the last few weeks of pregnancy, Braxton Hicks contractions help to move the baby and engage the head in preparation for labour.
During a contraction, your belly will feel quite hard to touch. If you look in a mirror, you will be able to see your muscles tightening as you experience a contraction. Some women report being able to see the position of the baby in the womb during tightenings.
Who Gets Braxton Hicks Contractions?
Braxton Hicks contractions start around the sixth week of pregnancy, although they may not be felt until the second or third trimester. This is because the larger your uterus, the more obvious the contractions feel. All women have Braxton Hicks contractions, but not all women will feel them. Some women may be able to feel them early on, whereas others may experience them only during the last few weeks of pregnancy.
Do They Cause Any Problems?
Braxton Hicks contractions are a normal part of pregnancy and do not indicate cause for concern. Similarly, not experiencing them is normal too – it just means you can't feel them happening. Simply continue as normal – you do not need to take any extra precautions as a result of these contractions.
What Should I Do If I Experience Braxton Hicks Contractions?
During the last few weeks of pregnancy, you may start to experience more discomfort during Braxton Hicks contractions.
To avoid being uncomfortable, you can try the following:
- Change activity or position. If you are sitting down, try getting up and taking a walk or some light exercise. If you were standing up, trying lying down on your left hand side. You should find a change of pace causes the tightenings to ease off.
- Have a warm bath. This may stop the contractions, or you may find the heat relaxes you and decreases any discomfort.
- Drink a glass of water. Braxton Hicks can be caused by dehydration, and due to the excess water pregnant women need to consume, it is always worth having a glass to see if this helps.
- The tightenings can be brought on by having a full bladder (no doubt due to all that excess water you've been drinking trying to stop the last bout of Braxton Hicks contractions!), so try going to the toilet.
Towards the end of the pregnancy, the contractions may become more uncomfortable, but should still not grow longer, stronger and closer together like the contractions of true labour.
If you are worried that your contractions do not fit the description here, and may be real labour, please contact your midwife. If the contractions are accompanied by vaginal bleeding, lower back pain, vaginal discharge or diarrhea, you should ring your midwife immediately.
How Will I Know If It’s Labour?
To find out what early signs of labour you should look out for, read BellyBelly’s article here.