What Do Braxton Hicks Feel Like?

Everything You Need to Know About Braxton Hicks Contractions

January 25, 2019

Everything You Need to Know About Braxton Hicks Contractions

Everything You Need to Know About Braxton Hicks Contractions
Everything You Need to Know About Braxton Hicks Contractions

You’ve probably heard of Braxton Hicks contractions but that doesn’t mean you’re super clear on what exactly they are, how they differ from labor contractions and how you’ll know when they’re happening to you during your pregnancy. Here’s what to know about Braxton Hicks contractions.

What are Braxton Hicks contractions?

Call them training for the main event. Braxton Hicks contractions are the tightening of a woman’s uterus any time before she’s actually in labor. Also called false labor, Braxton Hicks contractions are known to send many a woman to the hospital thinking she’s about to have a baby when she’s really not.

These practice contractions get their funky name from John Braxton Hicks, the doctor who first documented them in 1872.

What causes Braxton Hicks contractions?

Braxton Hicks don’t happen just to fool you. They’re your body’s way of prepping for the actual contractions of labor. They’re considered a normal part of pregnancy, and while it’s not clear exactly what causes Braxton Hicks contractions, there are some things that can bring them on:

  • Dehydration: Drink up because when muscles are dehydrated, they can cramp up—and that includes the uterus. Dehydration can also cause preterm labor, so it’s a good idea to drink a lot of water during your pregnancy.
  • Overexertion: Gentle exercise like swimming, walking and prenatal yoga can be great to do during pregnancy, but try not to overdo the workouts. Take a break and rest if you start feeling Braxton Hicks contractions while you’re exercising.
  • Sex: You might feel your belly tighten up after having an orgasm while you’re pregnant.
  • Full bladder: In some cases, a full bladder can trigger Braxton Hicks contractions.
  • A UTI: As if the pain and discomfort of a urinary tract infection aren’t enough, it can bring on Braxton Hicks contractions as well. They should go away after treatment. See the doctor right away if you have burning when you pee or an urgent to go.

Also, some experts believe Braxton Hicks contractions late in pregnancy help the cervix (baby’s entryway into the outside world) start to soften and dilate to get ready for baby’s debut.

What do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like?

Braxton Hicks contractions can feel different for different women and at different times. Honestly, you might not feel Braxton Hicks at all. Or you might notice your belly getting really tight (and rock hard!) without much sensation at all. You might also feel a little discomfort or actual pain with Braxton Hicks—there really is big a range of sensations.

Pregnant women who have had a baby before tend to notice Braxton Hicks contractions more than first-time moms do.

When do Braxton Hicks contractions start?

Braxton Hicks contractions can start pretty early in pregnancy—but you probably won’t feel them until at least 20 weeks pregnant. They’ll likely become more noticeable in the third trimester and will continue until the end of pregnancy.

Wondering how long Braxton Hicks contractions last? Usually just 30 to 60 seconds, but they’ve also been known to last as long as two minutes!

Braxton Hicks vs. real contractions

The biggest question when it comes to Braxton Hicks contractions is: How do you know you’re not in labor? Well, the answer is that Braxton Hicks go away! Braxton Hicks contractions are random and intermittent. They’ll ease up after a few minutes or if you move positions, go to the bathroom or drink a glass of water.

Real labor contractions will:

  • Become regular and start to occur more often and become more intense with time (a contraction timer app can be useful for timing them)
  • Not stop no matter what you do
  • Be more uncomfortable or painful than Braxton Hicks contractions

Aside from labor contractions, other signs of labor include a bloody show—a blood-tinged discharge made up of blood vessels that come from the cervix when it starts to dilate—losing the mucus plug and your water breaking.

Usually, it’s clear that you’re having Braxton Hicks contractions because they’ll go away, but sometimes it just isn’t, and you should call your doctor anytime you’re unsure.

Tips to relieve Braxton Hicks contractions

Braxton Hicks contractions range from a little annoyance to super uncomfortable to even a bit painful. There are some things you can do that can help relieve the discomfort and may even stop them.

  • Change positions: Simply getting up or sitting down can make Braxton Hicks go away.
  • Drink water: Since dehydration can bring on Braxton Hicks contractions, you may just need to drink a few glasses of water to get some relief.
  • Rest: If you’ve been overexerting yourself, take a breather. That may be all you need to stop the contractions.
  • Breathing and relaxation techniques: Did you learn any natural pain management techniques in your childbirth class? Try them while you’re having a Braxton Hicks contraction. This might not stop the contractions, but it can help with the pain—and give you practice in using those methods before the big event.

If you try all this, and your contractions don’t stop or you suspect you might be experiencing the real labor deal, call your healthcare provider right away.

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