Braxton Hicks Contractions: What Are They?

Braxton Hicks Contractions Compared to Real Contractions

Towards the end of your pregnancy, it’s normal to wonder how you’ll know when you’re in labour. It can be especially confusing if you experience contractions in the second or third trimester that go away without leading to labour. These are called Braxton Hicks contractions, and they're one of the ways your body gets ready for labour.

What Are Braxton Hicks Contractions?

Also known as ‘false’ or ‘practice’ contractions, Braxton Hicks contractions (which are named after the doctor who first identified them) are not actual labour contractions, but they are caused by the muscles of the uterus tightening, just as real labour contractions are. Knowing what Braxton Hicks contractions feel like can help you determine whether you’re experiencing practice or real labour contractions when they occur. False contractions typically feel like a tight squeezing of the abdomen or like familiar menstrual cramps.

You don’t necessarily need to do anything if you feel Braxton Hicks contractions. Taking a walk, resting, or changing positions might help them go away, but each woman's experience is different.

Braxton Hicks vs. True Labour Contractions

If your pregnancy isn’t yet full term, you might worry you’re going into premature labour at the first sign of a contraction. You might also wonder whether the contraction you’re feeling is another Braxton Hicks or if it’s finally the real deal.

To help sort this out, you'll want to familiarise yourself with the symptoms of labour and to keep these Braxton Hicks symptoms in mind:

  • False contractions are irregular and do not get closer together in time. A good way to double-check is to time the contractions.
  • False contractions are weak and don’t get stronger, or they start strong, but then get weaker. However, as your due date approaches, stronger and more frequent Braxton Hicks contractions may occur.
  • Practice contractions stop when you rest.
  • You feel the discomfort of the contractions at the front of your abdomen and groin area. (True contractions can start at the back and move toward the front of your abdomen.)

How long do Braxton Hicks last? Typically, each contraction will last between 30 and 60 seconds.

Call your GP or midwife if you’re in doubt about what you're experiencing, or if you notice any of the following:

  • Contractions come at regular intervals, and get stronger and more frequent over time.
  • Contractions last for more than one minute and occur at least every three to four minutes.
  • Pink mucus or light bleeding from your vagina.
  • Fluid leaks or gushes from your vagina.

You might be wondering: do Braxton Hicks hurt? While you may feel some tightening in the muscles of the uterus, Braxton Hicks contractions are usually painless, but you may feel a tight and uncomfortable sensation. Contact your doctor for advice if you feel any pain.

When Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Start to Happen?

Usually, they can occur through the late stages of your pregnancy, mostly in the third trimester.

Braxton Hicks contractions can cause a little discomfort, but they’re a completely normal part of pregnancy, and they’re helping your body prepare for the big day when you actually go into labour. To help you feel even more prepared, read up on comfort measures during labour, and check out what to expect right after the birth of your baby.

How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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