When you’re pregnant, you become very aware of any new or different sensations in and around your belly. As you get closer to your due date, you may begin to feel light and irregular contractions in your abdomen or pelvis. These are called Braxton Hicks contractions, and although at first, they might make you think that you’re going into labor, they’re not the same as labor contractions. But what do Braxton Hicks feel like? How can you tell the difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and true labor contractions?
Braxton Hicks are intermittent and irregular uterine contractions that can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Most people who have them don’t feel them until the second or third trimester of pregnancy, though. These practice contractions are named after the doctor who identified them in the late 19th century. During Braxton Hicks contractions, a pregnant woman’s uterus will lightly contract and release for up to two minutes and then return to normal.
Braxton Hicks contractions are referred to as practice contractions because they help the body prepare for true labor contractions. You may experience Braxton Hicks contractions from time-to-time during your pregnancy, even if you are planning to have a cesarean section to deliver your baby. Some people never experience Braxton Hicks contractions, and that’s normal too.
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Braxton Hicks contractions are caused by a tightening and relaxing of the uterine muscles. Although there is no single reason why Braxton Hicks contractions happen, they have been attributed to:
- Pregnancy hormones
- High levels of physical or sexual activity
- Full bladder
- Other possible stressors to the fetus
Braxton Hicks are usually only felt in the front of your belly or pelvis. The contraction should be light enough that you can still rest or move around comfortably. You might also feel your uterus become hard when you are in the middle of a contraction.
If you are in true labor, your contractions will feel more intense, and you might feel the sensation or pain in your lower back as well as your abdomen.
You might also be wondering how Braxton Hicks feel as you get further along in your pregnancy. Braxton Hicks may occur more frequently in your third trimester, but you will know they are false labor contractions if they are irregular and taper offer within two minutes.
How Braxton Hicks feel can vary from person to person. The intensity and frequency of Braxton Hicks contractions may also differ from one pregnancy to another.
Braxton Hicks contractions are part of a healthy pregnancy and are harmless to you and your baby. They are more common throughout the third trimester. They don’t dilate the cervix or make it thinner. They aren’t painful, and they don’t become stronger. They don’t require medical attention.
However, if your Braxton Hicks contractions are accompanied by severe pain, vaginal bleeding, or blood-streaked vaginal discharge, contact your health care provider right away.
You may be experiencing true labor if your contractions:
- Last for 45-90 seconds during an hour
- Last longer or get stronger as more time passes
- Become too intense or painful for you to walk comfortably
- Don’t ease or go away when you change your position
If you are experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions, there are a few things you can try to alleviate any discomfort.
If the contractions occur during a high-intensity or physically demanding activity, stopping to rest or lie down can help. Lying on your left side might be more helpful than lying on your right side. Conversely, if you were inactive during Braxton Hicks, going for a walk or other light movement might be helpful.
Sometimes a warm bath or shower can relieve Braxton Hicks contractions, as can drinking water if you’re dehydrated.
Although they may feel uncomfortable or inconvenient, Braxton Hicks contractions are a perfectly normal part of a healthy pregnancy and are simply your body’s natural way of helping you prepare for real labor.
Be sure to contact your health care provider if your contractions become more intense, occur at regular intervals, or if they are accompanied by pain or vaginal bleeding. Check out Flo.health for more great articles about fertility, pregnancy, and caring for your newborn.