Before you reach the halfway point in your pregnancy, you might want to know a thing or two about Braxton Hicks contractions.
If you’re a first time expecting mummy, you may not have heard of them before—and they may not even be a problem for you during your pregnancy. But if you want to save yourself a scare thinking that you’re going into early labour, keep reading all about Braxton Hicks contractions!
What are Braxton Hicks contractions?
Braxton Hicks contractions happen when your body is practicing for the real thing. Labour is a very intense, complicated process, and your abdominal and uterine muscles will be getting a pretty heavy workout. Luckily for you, your body is also smart enough to begin “training” for the big moment months in advance!
That’s right, as early as 6 weeks into your pregnancy, those pregnancy hormones will let the abdominal muscles know that it’s time to begin contracting and squeezing themselves spontaneously and sporadically. But you probably won’t notice them until you are 20 weeks pregnant, if at all. Some women don’t feel Braxton Hicks contractions at any point in their pregnancy, especially first time mums. On the other hand, women who have already given birth at least once typically feel them earlier and more intensely.
What do Braxton Hicks feel like?
Some women panic when they feel their first Braxton Hicks contractions, confusing them for the real thing. This can be very scary if you are only 20 weeks pregnant! But don’t worry, there are some key differences between Braxton Hicks and labour contractions. You can usually distinguish them from one another by asking yourself the following questions:
- How far along am I? – If you are between 20 and 35 weeks pregnant, they are more likely to be practice contractions than labour contractions.
- How long do they last? – Braxton Hicks contractions typically only last 15 to 30 seconds at a time, but can sometimes last for a few minutes. But labour contractions will become longer as time passes.
- How often am I having them? – While labour contractions become more frequent as you get closer to delivery, Braxton Hicks contractions are completely irregular. You also shouldn’t have them more than 4 times in one day.
- Where does the pain begin? – Usually, Braxton Hicks contractions begin at the top of your uterine muscles and work down. You shouldn’t have much back pain. However, the opposite is true with labour contractions, which start in the lower back and wrap around to the front.
- Does movement help? –With Braxton Hicks contractions, you can often decrease the pain or make it go away completely by shifting positions. If you are lying down, sit or stand up and you should feel a difference. However, with labour contractions, no movement can make them go away.
What can I do to relieve them?
As mentioned above, movement can usually help make Braxton Hicks contractions more bearable. While you may not be able to eliminate them completely, here are some other ways that can minimise your discomfort:
- Stay hydrated – Once again, making sure to drink enough water can help ease all kinds of aches and pains during pregnancy. Cramping of any kind tends to be worse when the body is even a little bit dehydrated.
- Take a warm bath – This can help relax some of those cramping muscles!
- Do what you’ve learned about birth in your antenatal classes – Even though you aren’t really going into labour, the special breathing and visualisation methods that you’ve learned can really help you to manage the pain.
For extra relaxation, and even a little bit of pampering, try adding some bath salts or essential oils to your bath. The calmer you are, the less those contractions will bother you!
When to call the doctor
Though Braxton Hicks contractions are pretty typical in pregnancy, you should also be aware of some red flags that could indicate a problem. Call your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following:
- Very severe pain, especially in the lower back
- Vaginal discharge that looks out of the ordinary
- Amniotic fluids (your waters breaking)
- A feeling of pressure in your pelvis, as if the baby is getting pushed down
- More than 4 contractions within 1 hour