When Braxton Hicks contractions occur, you will feel your uterine muscles tighten up or cramp. The feeling is generally described as “uncomfortable and strange” rather than painful, and lasts for around 30 seconds to 1 minute. They may cause your abdomen area to harden up and change shape slightly due to the cramping.
Why Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Happen?
Braxton Hicks contractions are like ‘false’ or ‘practice’ contractions. They are a normal part of pregnancy, and believed to be your body’s way of having a practice run for real labour by giving your uterine muscles a bit of a work-out. They are also thought to boost blood flow to the placenta and uterus.
As your delivery date approaches, Braxton Hicks contractions may help move the baby to engage the head in preparation for labour.
When Do They Start and How Often Do They Occur?
Braxton Hicks contractions start early in pregnancy, at around 6-7 weeks, however women will generally not be able to feel them at this time.
Women will generally start to feel Braxton Hicks contractions from around 16-20 weeks of pregnancy. As the baby’s delivery date approaches, the contractions may become more frequent, last a little longer, and also be slightly more intense. In some cases, women do not feel them at all.
In terms of frequency, they generally occur irregularly and not more than once or twice an hour, a few times a day
How are Braxton Hicks Contractions Different From Labour?
Labour contractions tend to be more regular as opposed to the irregular occurrence of Braxton Hicks contractions. During labour your contractions will also grow stronger, last longer (30 – 70 seconds each), and be closer together as delivery approaches.
They will also usually be accompanied by other labour signs like the “bloody show” which is a stringy mucus discharge, pinkish or brown with some blood; a sign that the cervix is opening up.
Managing Braxton Hicks Contractions
If you experience Braxton Hicks and are wondering how to manage the discomfort, you may:
- Try changing your activity or position to see if it improves your comfort level
- It is believed that sometimes dehydration may be a trigger for Braxton Hicks. Try having a glass of water and see if this assists.
- Try having a short warm shower which may help with your discomfort.
- If you have a full bladder or full bowels, this may be adding to your discomfort.
- Try some breathing exercises until the discomfort has passed.
When To Call the Doctor
If you are confused or worried, it’s always best not to play guessing games – call your OBGYN instead for advice.
If your contractions increase in frequency or intensity, and you see unusual discharge, call your OBGYN immediately – particularly if you are prior to 37 weeks pregnant as you may be experiencing preterm labour.