Feeling the contractions? Am I in Labour? Maybe. Maybe Not!

Braxton Hicks Syndrome

What are Braxton Hicks contractions?

After reaching the middle of your pregnancy, or earlier, you may feel the muscles of your uterus tightening. If you place your hands on your bare bump when it happens, you will feel how hard your uterus becomes.

Each tightening generally lasts for about 30 seconds, and probably will not cause you much discomfort. You may feel this once or twice an hour, few times in a day. You may not even be aware of these contractions sometimes.

It is quite possible to feel Braxton Hicks contractions as early as 16 weeks into the pregnancy. Meanwhile, without you realising, your uterus has been contracting gently on and off since about seven weeks. As your pregnancy progresses, you will notice the tightening sensations when they happen.

Why do Braxton Hicks contractions occur?

They may just be a sign that your uterus is keeping its muscle fibres toned, ready for the difficulties of labour. Some experts think that Braxton Hicks contractions affect your cervix. In the last few weeks of pregnancy, your cervix might start getting shorter and stretchy, ready to dilate and make way for your baby.

Changes in your hormone levels and tissues of the cervix along with Braxton Hicks contractions may start to mature your cervix in preparation for labour.

What is the difference between Braxton Hicks and labour contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions

  • Infrequent, and usually happen not more than once or twice an hour, a few times a day.
  • Often stop if you change the activity.
  • Usually irregular, or if they are regular, they only stay for a short time.
  • Don’t last long, usually less than a minute.
  • Unpredictable and non-rhythmic.
  • Don’t increase in intensity.

Labour contractions

  • Noticeably, increasingly longer
  • more frequent
  • more regular
  • more painful
  • increase in frequency and intensity

Braxton Hicks contractions may come more rhythmically during pre-labour, perhaps every 10 minutes to 20 minutes in late pregnancy. It can be hard to tell distinguish pre-labour from early labour, particularly if the tightening of your uterus is already making you uncomfortable. During pre-labour your cervix will not have started to open yet. Your doctor will be able to tell this by carrying out a vaginal examination.

Try to make yourself comfortable with pre-labour tightening and discomfort. It is an encouraging sign that your cervix is maturing and changing, and that things are going in the right direction.

How to tackle Braxton Hicks contractions if they become painful?

As your pregnancy progresses, these contractions might become more and more intense, and even painful at times. And when this happens, they might feel like labour pain. Though they might feel strong at that time, if they ease off, they are probably Braxton Hicks.

Think of Braxton Hicks as practice contractions that will help you to practice the breathing exercises you will learn in your antenatal classes. Breathe out long and strong when you have a Braxton Hicks contraction.

You may observe that Braxton Hicks contractions come more often when you do some light activity, such as carrying bags. If you feel uneasiness, lying down can help, so can taking a walk. It is the change in activity that can help to ease pain. A warm bath might also help you to reduce the discomfort.