Young discontent pregnant woman feels bad because of contractions, touches belly and has cramps, suffers from abdominal pain, going to give birth to baby, prepares for parenthood. Expectant mother

Braxton-Hicks Contractions vs. Real Labor Contractions

Braxton-Hicks contractions, also known as false labor pains, are contractions of the uterus that typically are not felt until the second or third trimester of the pregnancy. Braxton-Hicks contractions are the body’s way of preparing for true labor, but they do not indicate that labor has begun.

What are Braxton Hicks contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions can begin as early as the second trimester.  However, they are most commonly experienced in the third trimester. In late pregnancy, you may experience Braxton Hicks contractions more often — perhaps as much as every 10 to 20 minutes. This is a sign that you are preparing for labour — known as prelabour.

When this happens, the muscles of the uterus tighten for approximately 30 to 60 seconds, and sometimes as long as two minutes. Braxton Hicks contractions tone the muscles in your uterus and may also help prepare the cervix for birth.

What do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like?

Braxton Hicks contractions start as an uncomfortable but painless tightening that begins at the top of your uterine muscles and spreads downwards. They cause your abdomen to become very hard and strangely contorted (almost pointy). Once you get closer to your estimated due date, they will become more frequent and intense.

They are described as:

  • Irregular in intensity and usually last about 15 to 30 seconds, but sometimes as long as two minutes
  • Infrequent
  • Unpredictable
  • Non-rhythmic
  • More uncomfortable than painful
  • They do not increase in intensity or frequency
  • They taper off and then disappear altogether

What causes Braxton Hicks contractions?

There are possible causes of these contractions. Some physicians and midwives believe that they play a part in toning the uterine muscle and promoting the flow of blood to the placenta. They are not thought to have a role in dilating the cervix but might have some impact on the softening of the cervix.

However, as Braxton Hicks contractions intensify nearer the time of delivery, the contractions are often referred to as false labor. When this occurs, it can help the dilation and effacement process.

What triggers them?

The following are triggers of Braxton Hicks:

  • When the mother or the baby is very active
  • If someone touches the mother’s belly
  • When the bladder is full
  • After sex
  • Dehydration

What can I do to alleviate Braxton Hicks contractions?

  • Change positions. You can lie down if you have been standing or go for a walk if you have been sitting or laying
  • Take a warm bath for 30 minutes or less
  • Because contractions may be brought on by dehydration, drink a couple of glasses of water
  • Drink a warm cup of herbal tea or milk

There are some differences between Braxton Hicks contractions and true labour contractions:

Braxton Hicks contractions:

  • don’t result in your cervix thinning and opening
  • usually last for about 30 seconds
  • can be uncomfortable, but usually aren’t painful
  • come and go at irregular times
  • usually occur no more than once or twice an hour (until late in the pregnancy), a few times a day
  • usually stop if you change position or activity or go for a walk
  • usually go if you have a warm bath or shower

Real labour contractions:

  • result in your cervix thinning and opening
  • last 30 to 70 seconds
  • become very regular
  • get closer together
  • last longer as time goes by
  • get stronger or come more often when you walk
  • get stronger over time

There are other clues that you’re in labor, including these:

  • You may see a clump of pinkish or bloody mucus when you use the bathroom. This is called a “bloody show.”
  • You may feel like the baby has “dropped” lower in your belly.
  • You may experience fluid leaking from your vagina. This is a sign that your “water” (a bag of fluid called the amniotic sac) has broken.

Contact your Midwife immediately if:

  • you feel pain, pressure or discomfort in your pelvis, abdomen or lower back
  • the contractions become stronger, closer together and more regular
  • there is fluid leaking or gushing from your vagina

If you’re not sure whether what you’re experiencing is Braxton Hicks contractions or actual labour, contact your Midwife. They will be able to tell by doing a vaginal examination — if there are no signs that your cervix is changing, it is not labour.

If you are full-term, you may choose to wait until a bit later in your labour, depending on what you have arranged with your Midwife. If your waters break, or your contractions are strong and 5 minutes apart, it’s time to call your Midwife.

At any stage of pregnancy, you should contact your Midwife immediately if you:

  • you have persistent pain in your abdomen
  • you have vaginal bleeding
  • you notice your baby’s movements have slowed or stopped
  • you feel very unwell

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest
WhatsApp chat