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The term Braxton Hicks contractions came from an English doctor John Braxton Hicks, who discovered this condition of labor like contractions that happen before real labor occurs.
It’s useful to know the difference between Braxton hicks and real labor in order to prevent confusion and also take the right precautions.
What are Braxton Hicks contractions?
Braxton hicks contractions aren’t “real” contractions in the sense of the word. You aren’t actually going into labor but you might think that you are. They are common and normal for pregnant women and they are also safe so you don’t need to worry about them.
They don’t cause any changes to your cervix, however, they prepare your uterus for real labor. It means that your uterus is actually getting strong and preparing itself for the real thing. Some doctors believe that Braxton hicks
Sometimes, they can happen randomly but other things can cause Braxton Hicks like, sex, orgasm, a urinary tract infection (UTI), having a full bladder, strenuous exercises/activities, or if you are dehydrated.
A good thing about Braxton hicks is that if you do feel any pain, it usually will go away after some rest, time, and other strategies we will talk about below.
What do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like?
When Braxton hicks start, you may feel it at the front of the uterus and it is like a tightening or your belly may feel hard. If you are a first-time mom it may surprise you, especially if you haven’t felt it before. But don’t worry!
You can feel it in the higher part of the abdomen kind of like a dull cramping. Some women also have difficulty in breathing during this episode and may also notice that their belly can become contorted during a Braxton hicks contraction. You can also feel your bump is firmer and harder to the touch.
There is no pain felt at the back unlike menstrual cramps or when you are going through real labor contractions. You might feel more discomfort than actual pain.
What’s interesting is that most new mothers won’t even feel Braxton hicks contraction so don’t be surprised if you haven’t experienced it during one pregnancy but might feel it during another.
Braxton Hicks contractions vs real contractions
Aside from the fact that Braxton hicks aren’t the “real” thing, there are some things you can watch out for to determine which is which:
Braxton Hicks contractions
- These will lessen or disappear if you drink water, rest, or change movement and position
- Pain or discomfort will not intensify or get stronger (generally they are painless)
- Short and far apart
- Happens in the upper abdomen area and won’t wrap around the body
- Will not have any effect on the cervix
- Irregular and infrequent (can’t be timed)
- These often won’t disappear once it has started until you give birth
- Pain will intensify and get stronger
- Longer and closer together
- Happens in the lower part and can wrap around the body
- Affects the cervix
- Constant and more regular (you can time them)
Related: What Is A Postpartum Sitz Bath & Why You Need One
When do Braxton Hicks contractions start?
Usually, Braxton hicks contractions start during the later part of your pregnancy, around 20 weeks. Although, you may feel them earlier.
In my first pregnancy I felt them around 23 weeks, but second pregnancy I started to feel them around 19 weeks.
You may also feel them more often during the later part of the day.
From about 7 weeks, your uterus is actually gently contracting and as the pregnancy progresses, you may be able to feel the tightening.
If you are a first-time mom, there’s a big chance that you may not even feel Braxton hicks contractions.
Braxton hicks usually last for about intervals of around 30 to 120 seconds, but it can differ with every mother. Their frequency can be 1 or 2 times per hour several times in a day.
The frequency may also increase as you enter into the later parts of pregnancy.
You should contact your health provider if you do feel frequent, rhythmic, and painful contractions and you aren’t 37 weeks yet and experiencing these symptoms:
- Abdominal pains that feel like menstrual cramps
- Dull and rhythmic lower back pain (especially if it is a new feeling for you)
- Regular contractions (like every 10 minutes)
- Vaginal bleeding or spotting
- Watery, bloody, or mucus like discharge and an increase in vaginal discharge and strange color discharges
- More pressure in the lower area/ pelvic area
If you are more than 37 weeks and you are experiencing the following symptoms, you should be contacting your doctor asap:
- Your water breaks
- Vaginal bleeding
- Contractions that are 5 minutes or less apart
- You are experiencing intense and continuous pain
Related: How To Naturally Induce Labor
How to stop Braxton Hicks contractions
Braxton hicks won’t have any negative effects on mom or baby but if you feel uncomfortable or you need some relief, there are some things you can do:
Gentle movement can sometimes stop Braxton hicks so try to go on a light walk and see if the contractions will stop.
Since dehydration can cause Braxton hicks, drinking a lot of fluids will be beneficial for you. If the weather is hot, it is even more important for you to be drinking a lot of water. Pregnant mamas should aim for at least 96 ounces of water a day.
I keep a water bottle like this one with me all day to help me get my water requirements in for the day!
Sometimes getting a breather is good for mom. It is still important to move around, but try to keep your exercises less strenuous and go for activities like walking or swimming. You can usually tell if your body will start to contract more once you exercise so this is a good sign to stop and take it easy.
Rest doesn’t even have to mean sleep since you can just sit down, put your feet up or take a few minutes on the hammock.
Stress is your enemy when it comes to Braxton hicks so try to find a moment to relax and reduce stress. You can try a warm and relaxing bath for around 30 minutes. Try listening to calming music and just unwind. Taking slow deep breaths are also helpful to help you cope with the pain or discomfort.
A warm (not hot!) bubble bath can help ease those muscles and contractions. Make sure the water isn’t too hot to keep it safe for you and your baby and prevent your body temperature from rising.
Bonus tip: bubble baths are a good “me time” for moms and can help rejuvenate and refresh your senses.
A lack of magnesium can lead to muscle spasms so it is important to have enough, especially during your pregnancy. Try magnesium oil like this one to keep your levels healthy.
If you are sitting down, try standing up and vice versa to help relieve Braxton hicks. Any change in activity can help so try out different things.
Eat a banana
Since Braxton hicks are basically like cramping muscles, eating foods that are high in potassium like bananas can help ease the cramps.
A warm drink
Aside from warm water, try sipping some warm tea, warm milk, warm apple cider, or any warm beverage that will help relax you and soothe your stomach as well.
Mild exercise is an overall healthy habit to have during pregnancy in order to get your muscles moving but it can also be helpful when trying to get rid of Braxton hicks. You could simply just move around the room a bit or get up from the couch etc.
Inhale and exhale slowly and really let the air fill your lungs and nourish you. It will help get rid of the tightness and also help calm you down. Being calm can help relax your muscles and also release the tension. Find a quiet place to stay in or you can focus on something straight ahead.
Sleep can do wonders and even a nap can make a difference to relieve Braxton hicks. Especially during pregnancy, sleep can be elusive so try to create an environment that is conducive for sleeping. Get into comfy clothes, close the curtains, and keep a cool environment in order for you to get some shut-eye.
Related: How To Sleep Better While Pregnant
Music won’t only help calm you, it could also be a good distraction and can help change your mood. If your favorite tunes aren’t helping, you can even try to listen to sounds of rain, water, waves, or anything that will do the trick.
Meditating can help relax a tense body and mind, so give it a try. You can check out books, videos, or classes. You can also simply meditate at home by getting in a quiet space and try to close your eyes and think of something that will help you feel calm. A mantra can also be helpful to think about in your head and quietly repeat.
A good massage can help relax and rejuvenate your muscles. You can either have your partner, friend, or a professional give you one. Depending on what works on you, you can either have a head massage, hand, foot, neck, or body.
Foot massages are especially beneficial since your feet can be quiet tense and are always being overworked (especially during your pregnancy).
Giving it time
Braxton hicks, unlike real contractions, will not get stronger or longer or closer together so sometimes, all you might need is to give it time and it will just disappear on its own.
Luckily nowadays, we have things like Netflix or Youtube to help keep us entertained and distracted. Sometimes this is good to get your mind off stressful things of daily life and just watch a funny movie or catch up on your fave tv show.
Reading a book is also another option you have and if you are a bookworm, you would know the feeling of satisfaction and relaxation from having a good old book in hand.
Going to the bathroom
Since a full bladder can actually cause Braxton hicks, sometimes all you need is to relieve yourself and use the bathroom to help those false labor sensations subside.
It is common for expecting moms to think that what is happening to them could be the real thing when actually, it is Braxton hicks. If you are experiencing Braxton hicks, this is an opportunity for you to practice breathing, relaxing, and preparing yourself and your body for the real thing.
You can try those pain management strategies that you have been learning in birthing class. If you are unsure and are concerned about what you are feeling, it is always better to be on the safe side and consult with your physician to clarify if you are really going through Braxton hicks or if you are already experiencing real contractions.