What are Braxton Hicks?
Some women may experience Braxton Hicks during their pregnancy. Braxton Hicks are usually painless, irregular uterine contractions, so you may notice that the muscles of your uterus (womb) begin to tighten. Sometimes you may even be able to feel how hard your uterus by placing your hands on your bump.
Sometimes the tightening can last for up to a minute and you may get this feeling two or three times an hour and probably a few times a day. However, not all pregnant women experience Braxton Hicks, so it is important not to worry if you do not. Braxton Hicks usually begin to be strong enough to notice from 16 weeks and as your uterus grows, you will begin to notice the sensation more often. They also tend to be more noticable in subsequent pregancies.
Braxton Hicks were first diagnosed in 1872 by the English Doctor ‘John Braxton Hicks’ and they were named after him.
What do Braxton Hicks Contractions do?
Experts are divided in their opinions as to why some women have Braxton Hicks. It may just be a sign that your uterus is keeping its muscle fibres toned or it maybe that these contractions are keeping your uterus in good condition and practising for labour. It is also thought that Braxton Hicks Contractions may also help to prepare your cervix for when it is required to stretch during delivery.
How do I know if it is Braxton Hicks or Labour?
There are some differences between Braxton Hicks and Labour contractions which are detailed below. However, if you are unsure and want more advice, always contact your midwife for advice.
|Braxton Hicks Contractions||Labour contractions|
|Are infrequent, up to 3 times an hour, a few times a day||Increases in frequency|
|Often stop if you change activity, so rest if you have been busy, walk around if you have been still||Continue no matter what you are doing|
|Usually irregular||Regular and consistent|
|Do not normally last over a minute||Can last over a minute|
|Are unpredictable and non-rhythmic||You can time contractions and estimate when the next one will be|
|Do not increase in intensity||Increases in intensity, pain and duration|
It is possible for some women to experience ‘false labour’. This is when their Braxton Hicks do increase in frequency and come more frequently, anything up to every 10 minutes. This usually only happens in late pregnancy. It is difficult for you tell the difference between early labour and false labour without being examined by a midwife so there is no need to be embarrassed if you go to hospital thinking that you are in early labour.
Should I be worried?
Braxton Hicks get more intense as your pregnancy progresses and your uterus grows. At times they may even become painful and feel like actual contractions. However, if they ease off and stop, they are just Braxton Hicks.
If they do become intense or painful you may want to practise your breathing technique and exercises through them.
Rest often helps ease Braxton Hicks or changing your position or activity that you are doing. Sometimes warm water can be a good way to ease pain, so a warm bath may help.
There is normally no reason to worry about Braxton Hicks, however if you are getting a watery discharge or a bloody vaginal discharge alongside the Braxton Hicks it is important that you contact your doctor or midwife immediately as this may be a sign that you are entering premature labour. Lower back pain or cramping, diarrhoea, vomiting and the urge to push are also signs of early labour and you should call your midwife immediately.
If you are over 37 weeks pregnant and you think your baby’s movements have slowed, your waters have broken or you have been bleeding, it is also important that you contact your midwife immediately.
If your contractions become longer, stronger and more regular and frequent it is likely that your labour has begun.
by Jenny, mum to William and James