What do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like? Here’s how to tell if you’re experiencing them

    Updated 28 April 2023 |
    Published 05 March 2019
    Fact Checked
    Medically reviewed by Dr. Charlsie Celestine, Obstetrician and gynecologist, New Jersey, US
    Flo Fact-Checking Standards

    Every piece of content at Flo Health adheres to the highest editorial standards for language, style, and medical accuracy. To learn what we do to deliver the best health and lifestyle insights to you, check out our content review principles.

    Braxton Hicks contractions — also known as false labor or practice contractions — are your body’s way of preparing for true labor. It can be surprising or alarming to experience contractions in your uterus, which is why it’s important to know the difference between Braxton Hicks and actual labor.

    If you’re pregnant, then you’ve probably heard of Braxton Hicks contractions. Also known as false labor, these “practice contractions” can kick in long before real labor starts, and they’re a completely normal (if slightly unwelcome) part of pregnancy.

    But what do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like, and when do they start? What causes them, and where in your body should you expect to feel them? We’ve combed through the research to answer all of your questions. Plus, as part of our new series exploring the way things feel, we’ve turned to Secret Chats on the Flo app to see what the people in our community are saying about these contractions, too. Let’s get started!

    What are Braxton Hicks contractions?

    So what exactly are Braxton Hicks contractions? Let’s take a quick biology lesson. In scientific terms, they’re irregular contractions of your uterus, which simply means that your uterus is tightening and then relaxing again. They might feel alarming if you’ve never experienced them in your pregnancy before, but rest assured — they are completely normal. As Mother Nature likes to keep us on our toes, it’s also normal not to experience any Braxton Hicks contractions, so try not to worry if you don’t feel them at all throughout your pregnancy.

    Braxton Hicks contractions are a clever way for your body to start preparing for childbirth, by toning the muscles in your uterus and getting your cervix ready for labor. However, they aren’t actually a part of labor itself, and they’re very different from real contractions. Confused? Don’t worry. We’ll learn more about those later in this article.

    What causes Braxton Hicks contractions?

    Scientists aren’t quite sure why some people experience Braxton Hicks contractions while others don’t. However, experts do agree that the contractions are a sign that your body is getting ready for labor (even if you’ve still got weeks or months left to go in your pregnancy!). So if you’re wondering why you’re having so many Braxton Hicks contractions, don’t panic. Your body is just preparing itself for what’s to come.

    While you can’t directly trigger Braxton Hicks contractions to occur, there are a few factors that could contribute to them kicking in. These include:

    • Being dehydrated
    • Needing to pee
    • Being very active
    • Having sex

    Sound familiar? Some Flo community members have shared the things they believe bring about their Braxton Hicks contractions in the Secret Chats section of the app:

    • “I notice them coming on the most […] if I’m overexerting myself or dehydrated, and if my bladder is really full.”
    • “I do trigger them more when I move a lot or carry heavy things around.”
    • “Almost 34 weeks [pregnant], I experienced my first Braxton Hicks contraction the other night. I overdid it while cleaning, and I think I was dehydrated.”
    • “It really hits me when I’m walking a little too fast or even just cleaning around my house. [....] I usually try to push through it, but it does remind me to take a seat. It’s been so hard for me to ‘slow down and take it easy.’ My life has always been go, go, go.”

    When do they start?

    As every pregnancy is different, there’s no exact science to when Braxton Hicks contractions are likely to start. While researchers believe that the contractions can begin at around six weeks of pregnancy (yes, really!), the earliest you’re likely to feel them is during your second trimester. But they’re actually most common during your third trimester, and they can last right up until the moment that real labor starts.

    Let’s hear from some of the people in Secret Chats about when they first started having Braxton Hicks contractions:

    • “I have had them since 28 weeks pregnant. I am now 38 weeks, and I get them every day.”
    • “34 weeks [pregnant] as of now, having Braxton Hicks every day, several times a day and night.”
    • “37 [weeks] + 3 days [pregnant], and [I’ve] been having Braxton Hicks since early on in [the] second trimester, and I’m so over them now. I get them every day and all through the day!”
    • “I’m 28 weeks [pregnant] and have been getting them since 23 weeks. I’ve been to hospital three times worrying that I’m in labor. Each time they’ve monitored me and seen big contractions, yet not ‘labor contractions,’ and sent me home since my cervix was unchanged.”
    • “I’ve been having Braxton [Hicks] since [I was] 18 weeks pregnant or so! […] I’m 38 [weeks] + 1 [day] now. I get loads of them every day, and [it’s] pretty intense."

    So as we can see, there really is no set time for Braxton Hicks contractions to begin, if they occur at all.

    Take a quiz

    Find out what you can do with our Health Assistant

    What do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like? 

    We’ve learned a lot about the science around Braxton Hicks contractions, but you probably want a better idea of what they actually feel like. Essentially, the contractions will feel like a tightening in your tummy that comes and goes. You’ll feel these in the front of your belly, but not in the lower part of your uterus or your back. The sensation might be a bit uncomfortable, and it can also feel similar to period pain (we bet you haven’t missed that!). Experts advise that Braxton Hicks contractions generally won’t be painful, but everyone has different pain thresholds, so they might be sore for some people. 

    People in the Flo community shared the following about their experiences of how Braxton Hicks contractions felt for them:

    • “They’re not painful, just weird, like all my stomach muscles are pulling towards the middle. They usually only last a minute or so.”
    • “My midwife was palpating my tummy yesterday and told me I was having a [Braxton Hicks contraction]. I was convinced that was just my baby moving or sticking her bum out. I had no idea! This whole time I thought the pressure was just my baby.”
    • “Had them a couple of times I think, but they felt like menstrual cramps really. Nothing too painful or uncomfortable. If only real contractions felt like this!”
    • “I’m 24 weeks + 2 days [pregnant]. I’ve had Braxton Hicks two or three times now. I haven’t felt any pain. It’s just a little uncomfortable, and my belly gets rock hard.”
    • “I thought the [Braxton Hicks] were just my baby stretching out at first, but my friend was the one who told me they’re actually contractions! It doesn’t hurt at all … just pressure/tightening evenly across my belly.”
    • “I have had Braxton Hicks almost every day since [I was] 20 weeks pregnant (I’m at 37 weeks and 5 days). For me they are just a tightening of my bump and a mild cramp. I’ve gotten so used to them that sometimes I don’t even realize it! […] They usually only last about one to two minutes, and then it goes away.”

    And when are you most likely to experience these contractions? Well, experts advise that you might be more likely to feel Braxton Hicks during the evening. This has indeed been the case for some Flo community members:

    • “It gets intense and keeps me up. By daylight it’s all gone until nightfall again.”
    • “I go into false labor every night!”
    • “These false contractions won’t let me sleep. I need to pee or change my sleeping position to feel comfortable. These contractions happen mostly at night.”
    • “I’m 36 [weeks] + 3 [days pregnant], and this week I started getting what felt like menstrual cramping mostly at nighttime, after some walking and exercising. I just try to get comfortable in bed.”

    As we’ve already seen, Braxton Hicks won’t happen during every pregnancy, meaning some people might not experience these contractions at all. As some Flo community members say:

    • “39 weeks pregnant, and I feel perfectly fine. No pains ... nada. Just always feeling sleepy, but that’s about it. Pregnancy so far has been amazing.”
    • “37 weeks, and no Braxton Hicks in sight. Baby has dropped into my pelvis, so finding it harder to walk/stand without lower back pain, and fatigue has hit me the last few weeks. Trying to rest knowing Bub can come anytime […] and wondering what sign of labor will hit first.”

    Remember that every pregnancy is different, so as hard as it can be, try not to compare yourself to others. Your body will do its own thing!

    Differences between Braxton Hicks and real labor contractions 

    We’ve heard a lot about how Braxton Hicks contractions can feel, but how can you tell the difference between Braxton Hicks and labor contractions? You might be wondering whether you’ll experience these in a similar way, but experts advise that there are actually a few key differences to be aware of. These include:

    • Timing and duration: Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular, while labor contractions will follow a pattern, getting closer together as you near childbirth. While the length of Braxton Hicks contractions can vary, labor contractions will generally last around 60 to 90 seconds.
    • Location: You’ll usually only feel Braxton Hicks in the front of your belly, while labor contractions will move from the back to the front. 
    • Strength: Braxton Hicks contractions are generally weaker than labor contractions, although they might feel strong to start with and then get weaker over time.
    • Movement: While you can usually ease Braxton Hicks contractions by moving around, resting, or changing position, you won’t be able to stop labor contractions.

    You might also be wondering whether Braxton Hicks can actually turn into real labor contractions. It’s a good question, but the answer to this is no; Braxton Hicks contractions aren’t strong enough to start labor. 

    If you’re unsure whether you’re going into labor or not, you can try timing your contractions over an hour. Count how long each one lasts and consider how painful they are. Your doctor can then use this information to figure out whether you’re in labor or just “practicing.” And remember, if you ever have any questions or concerns, always reach out to your doctor. Even if you’re not going into labor and it’s a false alarm, it’s always better to be on the safe side!

    How to help relieve Braxton Hicks contractions

    We get it — even if your Braxton Hicks contractions aren’t painful, they sure can be uncomfortable. Luckily, there are a few easy actions you can take if you’re getting fed up with that familiar tightening in your belly.

    Experts recommend the following:

    • Either take a break from moving by lying down and resting, or go for a walk and move around if you’ve been sitting down for a while.
    • Drink plenty of water and keep yourself hydrated.
    • Have a snack.
    • Try peeing to empty your bladder.
    • Do something that will make you feel relaxed, such as reading or watching TV.

    When to see a doctor

    As we now know, Braxton Hicks contractions are a perfectly normal part of pregnancy, and there’s generally no need for concern. That being said, you should always reach out to your doctor if you think you might be going into labor — even if it turns out to be a false alarm.

    It’s also recommended that you should go to the hospital if you have any of the following signs:

    • You’re bleeding heavily from your vagina.
    • You’re experiencing severe pain that doesn’t stop between contractions.
    • Your water has broken, but you’re not feeling any contractions.
    • You feel your baby moving less often than before.

    These can be scary symptoms to experience during pregnancy, but try not to panic. Your doctor will be able to check you over and run any tests to make sure that you and your baby are both doing OK.

    The takeaway: What do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like?

    So what have we learned from our deep dive into Braxton Hicks contractions? Essentially, these are false labor or “practice” contractions that signal your body is getting ready to give birth — even if that moment is still weeks or months away.

    Braxton Hicks are a normal part of pregnancy, but not everyone will experience them. You might be more likely to feel them in the evening, and things such as being dehydrated, having sex, or being active can all trigger them to occur. Luckily, relief from the contractions can come in many (quite delightful) forms, from having a snack to doing something relaxing. 

    Just remember, if you have any concerns or are experiencing any of the symptoms above, or if you think you’re going into real labor, always reach out to your doctor. They can assess whether you’re ready to give birth and finally meet your little one!

    References

    Brien, Amy. “5 Common Questions about Braxton Hicks Contractions.” Mayo Clinic Health System, 5 Feb. 2021, www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/5-common-questions-about-braxton-hicks-contractions.

    “Braxton Hicks Contractions.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/22965-braxton-hicks. Accessed 5 Apr. 2023.

    “How to Tell When Labor Begins.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, May 2020, www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/how-to-tell-when-labor-begins

    “Prodromal Labor.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/24163-prodromal-labor. Accessed 5 Apr. 2023

    Raines, Deborah A., and Danielle B. Cooper. “Braxton Hicks Contractions.” StatPearls, StatPearls Publishing, 2022.

    History of updates

    Current version (28 April 2023)

    Medically reviewed by Dr. Charlsie Celestine, Obstetrician and gynecologist, New Jersey, US

    Published (05 March 2019)

    In this article

      Try Flo today

      Sign up for our newsletter

      Our latest articles and news straight to your inbox.

      Thanks for signing up

      We're testing right now so not collecting email addresses, but hoping to add this feature very soon.