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Braxton Hicks

What they are and why you have them

Feeling twinges and tightening during your pregnancy and wondering what they could be?

Don’t panic, you’re probably having what those in the know describe as ‘Braxton Hicks’.

At a glance

  • Braxton hicks can be uncomfortable but harmless
  • Some people call these 'practice contractions'
  • They can start early on in pregnancy

What are Braxton Hicks and what do they feel like?

First things first, not all women experience Braxton Hicks, so don’t worry if you haven’t got a clue what we’re talking about. However, you may want to brush up on what these are because they can happen from the beginning, right to the end of your pregnancy. So even if you don’t have them now you may experience these later on.

The best way to describe Braxton is as ’practice’ contractions and the way your body begins to prepare itself for the birth of your very special new arrival.  They can feel almost like period pains or tightening around the uterus and you may also feel your bump getting hard.

Although uncomfortable, may women claim that they aren’t painful and they also only last for less than a minute before easing off.

However, we can see why you may think these might be contractions as they can happen several times a day!

Why do Braxton Hicks happen?

No-one really knows why Braxton Hicks happen, but some experts think they help increase the flow of blood to the placenta and the transfer of oxygen to the foetus. They are also thought to soften and tone the muscles of the uterus and get it ready for labour.

When do they start?

They can actually start from as early as six or seven weeks, although most women don’t notice them until the later months. Over the final weeks of pregnancy they become more intense and are sometimes referred to as ’false labour.’

Dehydration is thought to make them more uncomfortable, so drinking plenty of water can sometimes help. Other triggers include having a full bladder and having been on your feet for a long time – take it as an opportunity to sit down and relax.

How do I know it’s just Braxton Hicks?

Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular, don’t last long, and are fairly weak, without getting more intense. They may stop when you walk, rest or change positions.

When it comes to the real thing, labour contractions are regular, frequent, last for longer, are more painful, and get more intense as your labour progresses.  

If you think you may be in early labour then it’s always best to call your midwife just to be safe. You can also find out more about the signs of labour.

At a glance

  • Braxton hicks can be uncomfortable but harmless
  • Some people call these 'practice contractions'
  • They can start early on in pregnancy

Braxton Hicks