What are Braxton Hicks contractions?
This common type of non-labor contraction is named after the British doctor who first described them in 1872. Braxton Hicks are basically your run-of-the-mill, practice or “warm-up” contractions. Their job is to get your uterine muscle ready for labor when it’s the real deal.
Braxton Hicks contractions are also called non-labor contractions because they don’t lead to labor. Unlike true labor contractions, Braxton Hicks don’t dilate the cervix or cause the birth of the baby (although some people do say that they can help with softening of the cervix closer to term).
Bonus content! Learn more about the signs of labor, DOWNLOAD our Recognizing the Signs of Labor Tip Sheet from Lamaze Childbirth Educators.
What do Braxton Hicks feel like?
Often these contractions feel like a short hardening or tightening of the uterus, reflected as tightening across your belly. Some people say they feel like low pressure or extremely mild menstrual cramps. They might be intermittent, or you might feel them regularly for a few minutes or even a few hours.
Braxton Hicks are “warm-up” contractions.
They are totally normal.
When should I expect to feel Braxton Hicks contractions?
Braxton Hicks contractions often start late in the second trimester or early in the third, sometimes earlier if you’ve already given birth. It’s key to remember that these warm-up contractions are totally normal. Some women never feel them even though they are likely happening throughout their pregnancy
What causes Braxton Hicks contractions?
Dehydration and exhaustion can bring on Braxton Hicks. They’re way more common at night, especially if you’ve had a long or taxing day. However, you don’t have to be overtired or under-hydrated to feel that telltale tightening in the belly—just being pregnant is basically a cause of contractions!
Just being pregnant is basically a cause of contractions!
If you start feeling Braxton Hicks early in your pregnancy, chances are you’ll be having them in some form or another for the rest of your third trimester, until you give birth.
Can I calm them down?
Although they are normal, it can certainly be distracting and uncomfortable if you experience a lot of Braxton Hicks contractions during your pregnancy. If you’d like to “relieve” your Braxton Hicks, one of the best ways is to relax. Of course, it is often easier said than done when you’re pregnant but soaking in a long hot bath, lying on the couch with a cup of tea, or vegging out in front of a movie are all good ways to calm things down. Any activity that chills you out should help. Hydration is also key—drink several large glasses of water and those contractions will likely slow down quite a bit. Heat, in the form of a heating pad or hot water bottle applied to the back can be comforting as well. Changing your position or going for a slow walk are also good ways to lessen practice contractions.
One of the best ways to relieve Braxton Hicks is to relax.
If you’re concerned that your warm-up contractions are coming faster or more often than feels comfortable for you, talk to your provider about them, either at a routine appointment or by calling the triage line at your birth place. False alarms happen to the best of us but it’s best to avoid rushing off to Labor & Delivery if you can.
Braxton Hicks or Labor?
It can be hard to know when labor is actually starting, often more so for first-time parents. But chances are, you’re not going into labor if you’re still early in your pregnancy. If you have Braxton Hicks, they might get more frequent or stronger as your pregnancy progresses, but they still won’t lead to labor. Labor contractions come at regular intervals, they progress in intensity, and they get closer together as times goes on. Most often, Braxton Hicks contractions don’t lead to labor—because they are sporadic, mild, and often stop with relaxation or a position change. In addition to changes in contraction patterns, there are often other signs, that labor will start soon or has already started to keep an eye out for.
Read more about the signs of labor here.