In this article
What are Braxton Hicks contractions? | What do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like? | What causes Braxton Hicks contractions? | How to tell the difference between Braxton Hicks & true labor contractions | When to see a doctor for Braxton Hicks
What are Braxton Hicks contractions?
Like the contractions experienced during true labor, Braxton Hicks contractions are contractions of the muscles of the uterus. Often called “false labor,” these contractions won’t cause you to go into labor but are instead the body’s own way of preparing to bring baby into the world—like an exercise. It’s your body planning for baby much like you are. Knowing that, it may be more helpful to think of Braxton Hicks contractions as “practice contractions” rather than “false labor.”
All pregnancies include Braxton Hicks contractions, believed to begin somewhere around the sixth week of your pregnancy. You may not feel them, though, until you enter the end of your second trimester or the beginning of your third trimester.
What do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like?
The word “contraction” may conjure the kind of pain that we know to accompany the contractions that bring on labor. In the case of Braxton Hicks contractions, it is simply a descriptor of what the muscles of the uterus are doing.
Braxton Hicks contractions feel like the muscles across your pregnant belly are tightening—your uterus may feel like it’s becoming hard to the touch. These contractions begin at the top of the uterus and move downward. This may feel uncomfortable, but most pregnant women don’t report feeling pained.
Braxton Hicks relief:
- Change your position. If you’ve been sedentary, try going for a walk. Been on your feet? Lie down for a bit, sit with a book or enjoy another soothing activity.
- Hydrate. Dehydration is believed to be a Braxton Hicks trigger, so having a few glasses of water—and ensuring you’re staying hydrated throughout the day—may help.
- Warm up. Whether you choose a short bath or a warm beverage, this can help soothe your discomforted muscles and calm any tension you may be feeling.
- Relax. Along with any of the above relaxing activities, a massage (from a loved one or a professional trained in prenatal massage) can help ease the tension and stress of pregnancy.
What causes Braxton Hicks contractions?
Generally, Braxton Hicks contractions are caused by the pregnancy hormones getting your body ready to deliver baby. However, they can be triggered from time to time—not just happen organically over the course of your pregnancy.
What triggers Braxton Hicks contractions?
- Activity—from mom or baby
- Touching the belly
- A full bladder
- After having sex
What do all of these have in common? Each of these triggering events may cause stress on your growing baby—your little one needs increased blood flow and oxygen. Don’t let the word “stress” alarm you. Again, these contractions are normal, and in the case of being triggered by any of the above are your body’s way of ensuring your growing baby is getting what they need.
How to tell the difference between Braxton Hicks & true labor contractions
You may be wondering how to tell the difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and true labor contractions. Below are symptoms you may experience and signs to help you determine each.
Braxton Hicks contractions vs. true labor contractions:
- Infrequent and unpredictable
- Irregular intensity and rhythm
- Uncomfortable rather than painful
- Do not increase in intensity or frequency
- Decline in intensity or disappear
True labor contraction symptoms:
- You experience pain
- They become closer together
- They become stronger and last longer
- They don’t stop—they keep going and increasing in intensity
If these are the symptoms you’re experiencing, it could mean you’re in labor and need to head to the hospital or begin preparing for your chosen birth method.
When to see a doctor for Braxton Hicks
You’ve been visiting your doctor regularly for prenatal care during your pregnancy, but is there ever a time to head in for a visit because of Braxton Hicks contractions? Some doctors offer their patients the 5-1-1 rule to gauge true labor versus Braxton Hicks contractions:
- Contractions happen every five minutes
- Contractions last at least one minute
- This pattern has been happening for one hour
If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately:
- Blood or other fluid coming from the vagina
- Contractions that you can’t walk during
- You notice a change in baby’s movement—either much more movement, or fewer than ten movements over two hours
While not a glamorous or fun portion of your pregnancy journey, Braxton Hicks contractions are a normal part of the experience. If you frame it as your body gearing up to bring your little one into the world—the same way you’re preparing by learning about pregnancy nutrition and healthy ways to exercise while pregnant—they may be easier to handle.