Dr. John Braxton Hicks discovered in the 19th century that the uterus contracts as it expands over the course of nine months—when this happens before it’s time for real labor to begin, they’re called Braxton Hicks contractions. They’re actually a very natural part of the pregnancy process, and don’t cause any physical issues, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t confusing and scary to new moms and seasoned moms alike. Here’s everything you need to know.
What do Braxton Hicks Contractions Feel Like?
Braxton Hicks contractions feel a lot like menstrual cramps, because the tightening and cramping that make them occur in your lower abdomen and pelvis area. They’re uncomfortable, but not usually painful. One of the biggest differences between Braxton Hicks and regular contractions, is that the former is felt more in the front of the body while the latter is felt in the entire lower body.
Braxton Hicks contractions usually happen during the third trimester, but can start in the second. Here are a few common things you can look out for to tell these contractions apart from real labor contractions—they typically aren’t indicative of labor if:
- They don’t happen at regular intervals
- They don’t get closer together as time passes
- They aren’t painful
- They stop when you change activity/position
- They don’t last longer as time passes
- They don’t feel stronger as time passes
What’s the Medical Difference Between Them?
Braxton Hicks contractions occur much earlier than labor contractions (as early as the second trimester) because the two types aren’t doing the same things. A real contraction is your body preparing for labor by opening up your cervix and preparing the birthing canal. These contractions are usually felt in the abdomen, lower back, and even in the legs. Real contractions may start off feeling like Braxton Hicks, but they’ll become more consistent and will grow in intensity as time goes on.
Most moms find that simply changing what they’re doing can stop Braxton Hicks contractions. For example, if you have one while sitting, stand up and take a little walk. Or if you have one while exercising, take a break and some deep breaths. You’ll know for sure you’re having Braxton Hicks contractions if they stop with some adjusting—because the only remedy for labor contractions is having your baby!
Are Braxton Hicks Contractions Harmful?
Braxton Hicks contractions shouldn’t have any impact on your baby, but your baby does have an impact on your Braxton Hicks contractions! What your baby is up to in there can trigger a false contraction, and you’ll usually feel some movement before you feel a Braxton Hicks.
Even though they aren’t real labor contractions, they’re still a way that your body is preparing for labor. Your uterus is tightening and relaxing just like in a labor contraction—but it isn’t changing your cervix yet. Some mothers don’t feel them at all, but if you do feel them and you want them to go away, here are a few things you can try:
- Drink some water
- Relax and focus on your breath
- Change positions
- Take a hot bath or use a heating pad (but not for too long)
In some cases, false labor contractions can be a sign of dehydration—that’s why drinking water is first on the list! It’s incredibly important that you stay hydrated throughout your entire pregnancy, so Braxton Hicks could be a sign that your body needs more water.
When You Should See Your Doctor
If you’re having Braxton Hicks contractions, but everything else is normal, there’s no need for a special doctor’s visit. Just let your doctor know at your next appointment, and be sure to give them plenty of details like the duration and frequency of them. Also be aware of any signs of labor that may accompany them, like losing your mucus plug.
There are a few symptoms, however, that need to be taken seriously. If you experience any of the following, call your doctor immediately.
- Constant leaking or water breaking
- Vaginal spotting or bleeding
- Consistent, painful contractions (about 5 minutes apart)
- Decrease in fetal activity
- Active labor and contractions
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