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  • Writer's pictureNutured Birth Ottawa

Everything You Need to Know About Braxton Hicks Contractions!

A pregnant black woman lays on a bed with her hand on her belly.

Braxton Hicks contractions can be surprising! You are cruising through pregnancy, moving into the last trimester, and you suddenly start experiencing a tightness in your belly. No, it's not likely you are going into labour. Rather, it's a Braxton Hicks!

Understanding what Braxton Hicks contractions are, what they feel like, and how they differ from true or progressive contractions is an important part of learning the cues of your body and preparing for birth.

In this post:

What are Braxton Hicks?

What do Braxton Hicks Feel Like?

How to Know the Difference Between Braxton Hicks Contractions and True Contractions

What to do About Braxton Hicks.


What are Braxton Hicks?

Braxton Hicks Contractions are a tightening and releasing of the uterus and abdomen that come and go. Often called "false" or "practice" contractions, they start around the 6th week of pregnancy but only become noticeable during the second or third trimester. Braxton Hicks are considered to be non-labour contractions, meaning that they are not progressive nor do they indicate that labour is about to begin. The purpose of Braxton Hicks is to act as practice contractions. They are the body's way of preparing for the main event!

Ok, buy why are they called Braxton Hicks and not "practice contractions?" Although women have been having babies and experiencing this preparatory tightening and releasing for ages and ages, this title was given to them in 1872 after and English doctor named John Braxton Hicks first noted them as a normal part of the later stages of pregnancy.

Although they might be annoying and sometimes uncomfortable, Braxton Hicks are actually a good thing! Not only do they tone the uterine muscles in preparation for birth, but they also nourish your placenta and baby with blood and oxygen.

What do Braxton Hicks feel like?

Braxton Hicks are usually without pain but can sometimes feel like a mild menstrual cramp. It feels like the muscles across your abdomen are tightening and the uterus is becoming hard. Braxton Hicks are irregular in length and timing, typically lasting no more than about 30 seconds.

How to know the difference between Braxton Hicks and true contractions?

When you have never experience a contraction before, knowing the difference between Braxton Hicks and true contractions can seem daunting. However, there are a few telltale signs for you know which is which.

1. It's all about the timing! As mentioned above, Braxton Hicks are irregular. While true contractions can also be irregular when they first start, the timing between them quickly makes itself known to be rhythmic and more regular, coming closer together over time.

2. True contractions get longer. Braxton Hicks typically last no more than 30 seconds while true contractions will get longer as labour goes on, eventually lasting between 60 and 90 seconds.

3. Braxton Hicks don't increase in intensity. They stay the same in discomfort and do not level up. Contrarily, true contractions become increasingly more uncomfortable and then, typically, painful as labour progresses.

4. The location of the sensation is different. While Braxton Hicks are predominantly felt in the front of the abdomen, true contractions are usually experienced as a feeling that wraps from the back of the body around to the front.

5. Braxton Hicks go away! Unlike true contractions which continue on regardless of what you are doing, Braxton Hicks often go away with a change in positioning or activity.

What to do about Braxton Hicks

If Braxton Hicks are becoming uncomfortable, contact your provider to ensure that you are not in early labour. Once you have the all clear, check out these birth doula tips to calm them and work through them:

  • Drink water! Braxton Hicks tend to occur more frequently when someone is dehydrated.

  • Rest or take a nap.

  • Practice long deep breathing until the Braxton Hicks is finished. This is a wonderful way to practice your labour breathing!!

  • Take a warm bath.

  • Sip on a cup of of pregnancy safe tea!

As Doulas in Ottawa, Julia Davie, Michele Appleby and Kaylee Cumming service the Ottawa and Gatineau area. As passionate birth workers it is our mission to support you in having an empowered and transformative birth experience. Interested in scheduling in for a doula discovery call with a member from our team? Contact us to book your free call!

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