In almost all pregnancies, Braxton Hicks contractions, also known as ‘practice contractions’, are a common occurrence. Many women, however, start to question “How do you know if you’re having Braxton Hicks contractions?” mostly after they’ve crossed the 20-week mark. These irregular contractions are your body’s way of preparing for birth, and they can be quite beneficial in the early stages of labor, especially in softening the cervix.
Real labor contractions feel different from Braxton Hicks contractions, but first-time parents may not be able to tell the difference.
What to Expect from Braxton Hicks Contractions
Find out how long Braxton Hicks contractions typically last and when you should head to the hospital if you’re experiencing them.
Braxton Hicks is like having cramps during your period.
Braxton-Hicks contractions feel like period cramps—a quick tightening or hardening in your belly. Most of the time, the feeling is more uncomfortable than painful. Over time, Braxton Hicks doesn’t get worse than real birth pains.
They happen sometimes and not always.
These “false” contractions don’t happen in a regular way; instead, they happen randomly and sometimes. Some people have them several times a day, while others never feel them while pregnant. On the other hand, real labor cramps will happen more often, feel stronger each time, and happen more regularly.
Did You Know?
Dr. John Braxton Hicks, an English doctor, noticed in 1872 that these contractions were different from labor contractions and gave them the name “Braxton Hicks.”
They don’t go on for more than two minutes.
Most of the time, Braxton Hicks contractions last anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes. Some people notice them later in the day, maybe because they are more relaxed and in tune with their bodies. Labor contractions are different. At first, they last between 30 and 90 seconds, but as time goes on, they get stronger and last longer.
Braxton Hicks may change from one pregnancy to the next.
Braxton Hicks contractions can be felt as early as 20 weeks in the second trimester. However, most women feel them in the third trimester. But during the second (or third, or fourth…) pregnancy, they may start earlier and be stronger. Professionals who work with pregnant women still don’t know why this happens.
They can be set off by sex.
Putting your penis in your vagina during the second half of your pregnancy could cause fake contractions. It looks like orgasms and the prostaglandins in sperm can cause these short-term feelings in the uterus. Braxton Hicks can also be caused by orgasm, with or without penis entry, because climax will tighten some muscles.
They can be caused by being too dry.
Dehydration may also make Braxton Hicks worse, so if they happen, you can also try to drink water and rest for a while. Dehydration can lower the amount of blood and fetal fluid in the body. When that happens, the body reacts by cramping, which starts Braxton Hicks. Staying hydrated is always important, but it’s especially important if you’re pregnant.
The contractions can stop if you work out or rest.
Now comes the part where it becomes complicated. If you exercise too much and move around too much, your body may respond with Braxton Hicks contractions. To stop the cramping, you’ll need to slow down and rest. Braxton Hicks can also start if you have been sitting still for a long time and not moving around much. You can get up and take a slow walk to stop the cramping. This will help ease the pain.
If you have Braxton Hicks contractions, you can also try out the breathing routines you’re learning for labor in your childbirth classes.
Braxton Hicks doesn’t happen with any other signs or symptoms.
When you’re in labor, you might also have other signs, like an unusual vaginal discharge, abdominal pain or cramps, backaches, and your water breaking. With Braxton Hicks’s contractions, none of these things happen. If you are experiencing contractions and other symptoms (such as blood, discharge, or increasingly painful cramping), you should contact your doctor immediately.
They feel the same way about having more than one baby.
What does it feel like for Braxton Hicks to have twins, triplets, or more babies? Experts say they feel the same as singleton pregnancies like the uterus randomly getting tighter or harder for less than two minutes. However, if you’re expecting multiple children, it’s important not to confuse Braxton hicks with actual labor contractions.