Braxton Hicks Contractions: How To Tell It Apart From Real Labour

Braxton Hicks Contractions: How To Tell It Apart From Real Labour

When your due date is coming up, you might find yourself having these contractions - but don't panic.

Do you the difference between Braxton Hicks vs real contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions are a type of practice run for labour. Because the uterus is made up of muscle fibres, it contracts, relaxes and stretches depending on the stage of pregnancy and how close the baby is to being born.

The rather odd name for these painless contractions is because they’re named after Dr John Braxton Hicks, the English physician who first gave them a name.

Braxton Hicks can happen at any time during pregnancy but are generally felt in the second and third trimester.

Sometimes Braxton Hicks contractions are called ‘false labour’ or even prelabour. Many women who are close to term think that they’re going into labour when they have Braxton Hicks contractions.

The main difference between Braxton Hicks and true labour contractions is that Braxton Hicks are random, not painful or progressive and just come and go.

Braxton Hicks vs real contractions

Braxton Hicks vs real contractions: do you know how to tell them apart? | Image source: iStock

Braxton Hicks vs Real Contractions: What causes Braxton Hicks contractions?

Hormones generally contribute to having Braxton Hicks, as well as the stretching of the muscle fibres of the uterus.

What’s the difference between Braxton Hicks and real contractions?

The important difference between the two is that Braxton Hicks contractions stop. They’re also sporadic, irregular and infrequent. And importantly, they’re not painful.

With Braxton Hicks, the cervix does not dilate, though they may have a role in thinning and softening the cervix in preparation for labour.

True labour contractions are more regular, painful and progressive and the cervix starts to dilate.

What does it feel like to have a Braxton Hicks contraction?

They feel like a tightening across the whole tummy. Sometimes this tightness can be uncomfortable, but not painful.

You can feel a Braxton Hicks as you place a hand on your tummy and your uterus becomes very hard and tight. And if you’re wearing fitting clothes, you might see your tummy contracting.

When am I likely to feel Braxton Hicks contractions?

Some women start feeling Braxton Hicks in their first trimester of pregnancy though most commonly, they’re felt in the second and third trimesters.

  • When you stand up after bending over.
  • After intercourse and orgasm.
  • When you need to go to the toilet and empty your bladder.
  • Perhaps more commonly at the end of the day, especially if you’ve been moving around a lot or have been exercising.

What can help relieve Braxton Hicks contractions?

Braxton Hicks vs real contractions

Image source: iStock

There’s not much you can do to relieve them, however, some women find:

  • A warm bath or shower is helpful.
  • Having a drink eases their Braxton Hicks contractions.
  • Dehydration can cause muscle contraction so drink plenty of water and stay well hydrated.
  • Going to the toilet and having a wee helps. A full bladder can sometimes trigger them.
  • Another trick is to change position, so if you’re standing up and walking around, try sitting or lying down. But make sure you lie on your side.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Have a massage.
  • If you’re wearing tight pants, change into something with more stretch and is less restrictive.

Differences between Braxton Hicks and labour contractions

Braxton Hicks vs real contractions

Image source: Supplied


To check with your maternity care provider if you’re unsure if what you’re feeling is Braxton Hicks contractions. Don’t hesitate to go to the nearest maternity hospital to be checked.

Jane Barry has qualifications in general, paediatric, immunisation, midwifery and child health nursing. She holds a Bachelor Degree in Applied Science (Nursing) and has almost 30 years specialist experience in child health nursing. She is a member of a number of professionally affiliated organisations including AHPRA, The Australasian Medical Writer’s Association, Health Writer Hub and Australian College of Children and Young People’s Nurses.

This article was first published in KidSpot and republished on theAsianparent with permission.


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