What are Braxton Hicks contractions?
Braxton Hicks, or ‘false labour pains’, are contractions of the uterus that are infrequent or occasional. They may start in early pregnancy, but you might not feel them until much later on. Some women never feel them at all.
They are named after a doctor who first described them in the 1870s, Dr John Braxton Hicks. They are mini contractions that are thought to be preparing the uterus for labour and they are usually painless. You may learn about them at your antenatal classes, or your midwife may discuss them with you.
What do Braxton Hicks feel like?
If this is your first baby, it’s quite hard to describe Braxton Hicks, though if you have had a baby before you will know what contractions feel like! You may feel that your lower abdomen, uterus or stomach muscles may squeeze themselves, then release, sometimes with a feeling like a belt tightening around your abdomen, or like a stitch. Your bump may become hard, and the skin may feel stretched. This is usually painless though a little uncomfortable. You may also feel a sensation that’s a little like period pains, down low in your uterus. They don’t have a regular pattern or frequency and they may cease altogether if you move about.
What causes Braxton Hicks?
It’s not known exactly what causes Braxton Hicks, though many think the uterus is toning the muscles that will come into play during labour – a sort of practice run. You may be more aware of them or experience them more when you:
Have a full bladder
Are tired at the end of the day
Are resting, so are more aware of them
When you’re dehydrated
When you have engaged in physical activity or sex
Does having Braxton Hicks mean labour is close?
Before 37 weeks, you can usually be assured that any contractions you feel are indeed Braxton Hicks, as long as they fit the criteria above. However, it can be difficult to tell Braxton Hicks and real labour apart, especially as you near your due date. However, it’s not possible for you to diagnose the difference yourself, so if you are having regular contractions before 37 weeks of pregnancy, it’s time to call your midwife for advice.
Braxton Hicks that happen nearer your due date are thought to help ripen your cervix and eject your mucus plug (a ‘show’) in preparation for labour.
When will I start to feel Braxton Hicks and how often will I have them?
Though it’s thought many women may have Braxton Hicks from the early weeks of pregnancy, you don’t usually feel them until you are into your second or third trimester. There is no pattern as to when you might feel them. If they are uncomfortable, try resting, changing positions, or taking a gentle walk or warm bath. Make sure you are well hydrated too.
Are Braxton Hicks dangerous?
Generally speaking, Braxton Hicks are completely harmless and as long as you have no other signs of premature labour, you can rest easy. However, if you suspect that you might be going into early labour, you should seek immediate medical help.
The signs of labour, as opposed to Braxton Hicks, are that the contractions are regular and get closer together with time, become more intense and are felt even if you move about.
You should also speak to your midwife if you have bleeding or spotting, a bloody mucus discharge, low back or abdominal pain, if your waters break, or if you have any concerns about how much your baby is moving.