What Are Braxton Hicks?by Laura Driver
Braxton Hicks are when the womb contracts and relaxes. Sometimes they are known as false labour pains. Not all women will have Braxton Hicks contractions. If you do, you’ll usually feel them during the second or third trimester.
Braxton Hicks are completely normal and many women experience them during pregnancy. Your midwife will probably talk to you about them at some point, and you can ask questions at any time. You may also learn more about them during antenatal classes.
Braxton Hicks may be uncomfortable, but they are not painful. Women often describe Braxton Hicks contractions as feeling like mild menstrual cramps or a tightening in a specific area of the stomach that comes and goes.
We don’t really know why women get Braxton Hicks contractions. But we do know some of the things that trigger them, such as:
- Being very active
- Having a full bladder
- Having sex
- Being dehydrated
Unlike labour contractions, Braxton Hicks contractions:
- Vary in length and strength
- Happen infrequently, are unpredictable and non-rhythmic
- Are more uncomfortable than painful
- Do not increase in frequency, duration or intensity
- Lessen and then disappear, only to reappear at some time in the future.
Compared with Braxton Hicks, labour contractions:
- Are noticeably, and increasingly, longer
- Are more regular
- Are more frequent
- Are painful
- Increase in intensity
Nearer the end of your pregnancy, Braxton Hicks contractions may form more of a pattern and increase in frequency and intensity. Lots of women often mistake Braxton Hicks contractions for the start of labour. But, unlike labour contractions, Braxton Hicks contractions do not cause the cervix (the entrance to the womb) to open (dilate).
It’s always best to contact your midwife or maternity unit for advice if you are not sure whether you are having Braxton Hicks or labour contractions. It’s also a good idea to call them if the tightening continues, especially if you are less than 37 weeks pregnant.