Braxton Hicks are practice contractions. What is happening is the muscles of the uterus contract for about 20-30 seconds (but it may be up to a couple of minutes) and you feel a tightening in the abdomen. They can be very frequent, uncomfortable, and even painful - although you often see them described as “painless” - and they may cause you a few sleepless nights.
Unlike real contractions they have no pattern, but as you approach labour they may become more rhythmic and closer together.
These practice contractions may become evident from as early as 32 weeks. Midwives often say that the earlier they start, the better chance you have of delivering on time!
You may notice that you get Braxton Hicks when you are dehydrated, if your bladder is full, when you are very active, or after sex.
Novices – and sometimes even veterans - find it difficult to know if Braxton Hicks actually are the start of labour pains, as sometimes they can be quite regular and last for as long as a couple of hours. You can, however, tell Braxton Hicks apart from real labour pains, because they will not grow consistently longer, stronger and closer together. If they are bothering you, practise your relaxation techniques. Or use them as an opportunity to rehearse your breathing exercises.
If you are having low cramping pains, back pains – or even upper-thigh pains - that come and go in a regular pattern lasting 40 seconds, then you should contact your hospital or midwife.
If Braxton Hicks are making you uncomfortable:
- Change positions.
- Take a warm bath
- Drink some water
- Try your relaxation exercises or take slow, deep breaths
“The Braxton Hicks got more and more frequent. My tummy would tighten like a drum and then go soft again…I kept repeating some advice to myself that I had heard: “If you’re not sure that you’re in labour then you are not in labour.” It was good advice. When that first real contraction came I had to grab on to the table. It was a whole different ball-game! “