Pregnancy

Braxton-Hicks vs. Real Contractions

Braxton-Hicks vs. Real Contractions

Key Takeaways

  • Braxton-Hicks have no role in dilating the cervix. 
  • Braxton-Hicks contractions usually last about 15-30 seconds, but can sometimes last for as long as two minutes.
  • Real contractions last longer as they go on, get more intense, stronger, and have closer intervals until giving birth.

Braxton-Hicks contractions

Braxton-Hicks contractions are contractions in the uterus that can occur before real contractions, usually in the third trimester but can begin in the second trimester, too. They are named after John Braxton Hicks, an English physician who described these contractions in 1872. They are usually infrequent, painless, have no rhythm, irregular, unpredictable, and felt before the last few weeks of pregnancy, which is the period when they frequently occur. However, a lot of women do not even feel them all throughout their pregnancy. Before the 37th week, these contractions cause no obvious cervical changes, but after the 37th week, changes in the cervix might occur to prepare for the real labor as they sometimes soften the cervix. However, Braxton-Hicks have no role in dilating the cervix. Braxton-Hicks are considered as practice contraction to prepare for the real ones and the pregnant woman can start learning how to breathe early on. If your contractions increase in frequency and you have more than 4 contractions per hour, you should contact you doctor because you might be in real labor. Firstly, the contractions will go from these infrequent cramps to strong frequent ones and then labor pain.

Braxton-Hicks are considered as a practice contraction to prepare for the real ones. When pregnant women experience these practice contractions, they can start learning how to properly breathe by simulating actual labor contractions. If your contractions have increased in frequency and you have more than four contractions per hour, you should contact you doctor because you might be in real labor. Firstly, the contractions will go from these infrequent cramps to strong frequent ones before experiencing labor pain.

What can ease these contractions?

  • A change in position - If you were standing when they started, you can lie down, sit down, or vice versa.
  • Keep yourself hydrated because dehydration can cause prolonged contractions.
  • Lie down on your left side.
  • Empty your bladder because a full bladder can also cause these contractions.
  • Take warm bath but no longer than half an hour or listen to your favorite music to relax.
  • Drink warm milk or herbal tea.
  • Breath rhythmically to practice for the real contractions.
  • Take a walk.
  • Get a massage.
  • Eat a snack or a small meal.
  • Get some sleep or rest.

It is also important to know what can cause or trigger Braxton-Hicks contractions. These are the most common:

  • Sex
  • A full bladder
  • Someone else touching the belly
  • The mother or the baby being very active
  • Dehydration

Pregnant women are usually concerned how Braxton-Hicks contractions will affect the baby. The good news is that there is nothing to worry about. They do not affect the baby at all unless they are the signs of preterm labor. On the contrary, Braxton-Hicks contractions are good for the baby because they can help increase the blood flow to the placenta, thereby nourishing the baby. Having Braxton-Hicks contractions is also a sign that the body is preparing the uterus for the upcoming real labor and childbirth. There are no tests to take to check for Braxton-Hicks contractions and there are no ways of preventing them. The best way to keep them under control is to stay hydrated and not be too active. Women who are pregnant with their first child are always more aware of the Braxton Hicks contractions and tend to get used to them. In the second and later pregnancies, pregnant women tend to feel them less or not feel them at all.

Difference between Braxton-Hicks and real contractions

Although some women do not see or feel the difference between Braxton-Hicks contractions and real contractions, they are very different from each other. The only important thing is to know what you should be paying attention to. Sometimes, pregnant women think they only have Braxton-Hicks contractions because their contractions are not that strong. However, they can actually be in labor even with mild contractions. These women usually have an easy and painless childbirth, but their cases are rare, and you should not pay a lot of attention to such sporadic cases. Instead, any pregnant woman should learn the difference between Braxton-Hicks contractions and the real ones. Here is the sum up:

Real contractions:

  • They last longer as they go on, get more intense, stronger, and have closer intervals until giving birth.
  • Contractions may last for 30-70 seconds.
  • Can be followed by a pink or bloody discharge (bloody show)
  • Don’t go away even if you change positions.
  • Followed by a lower back pain.
  • More painful.
  • You may feel the baby dropping lower in the belly.
  • Occur after the 37th week of pregnancy.
  • They feel like tightening or cramping in waves, coming from the back to the front.

Braxton-Hicks contractions:

  • Don’t last longer as they go on, are low-intensity, don't get stronger, and don't get closer together (not progressive).
  • May only last for 15-30 seconds.
  • Not followed by a bloody show.
  • If you change positions, they go away.
  • Are felt in the lower abdomen.
  • Can occur during the second trimester but may also be felt in the third trimester.
  • A tightening or squeezing feeling in your tummy.
  • Intact membranes.

It is important to know that if you recognize the symptoms of real contractions before the 37th week of your pregnancy or before the last three weeks of your pregnancy, it is not normal and might be a sign of a premature labor. You should contact your doctor immediately. Moreover, you should contact your doctor if you are having more than 3-4 contractions in one hour and have not reached the 37th week of your pregnancy yet. 

Braxton-Hicks meaning

Braxton-Hicks contractions are known as "false labor" or "practice contractions". They are infrequent, irregular, usually painless, and sporadic contractions that start during the second or third trimester of pregnancy. They usually last for 15-30 seconds. Pregnant women with Braxton-Hicks contractions can feel a tightening or squeezing feeling in their abdomen. Its purpose is to prepare the body and mind of a pregnant woman for real labor and childbirth. Because of these contractions, pregnant women would learn how to breathe properly and would help them later while giving birth.

Braxton-Hicks symptoms

Most women, especially when they are pregnant with their first child tend to confuse Braxton-Hicks contractions with the real ones. Thus, it is important to know how to recognize the symptoms. As previously mentioned, Braxton-Hicks contractions are irregular and infrequent with mild cramping. In most cases, they are usually not painful, begin at the top and goes down, which could last for a minimum of 15-30 seconds to a maximum of 2 minutes. Moreover, you might feel your uterus tensing up. To find out if your contractions are Braxton-Hicks or real contractions, try answering the following questions:

  1. How frequent are your contractions?
  2. How long does one contraction last?
  3. Do they go away if you change positions?
  4. Where do you feel the contractions?

The answers to these questions should solve your dilemma if you are having the Braxton-Hicks contractions or the real ones.

Braxton-Hicks at second trimester

As a mother-to-be enters the second trimester, some things change. Morning sickness and tiredness will soon fade and pregnant women will have more energy. For this reason, the second trimester is usually the easiest in all trimesters. In this trimester, the baby is growing rapidly and you can finally find out the sex of the baby. Moreover, the breasts get larger than before, which is a good thing for some women.

However, there are also some downsides during the second trimester. They include:

Although Braxton-Hicks contractions are usually felt in the third trimester, sometimes, they occur in the second trimester, which is completely normal. It means that your body and cervix are preparing for childbirth. They are mild, painless, and barely noticeable. As you progress with your pregnancy, Braxton-Hicks contractions might manifest in different ways.

Painful Braxton-Hicks

As Braxton-Hicks contractions are usually painless (they are more uncomfortable) and not last for long, a lot of women can recognize them easily, especially if they have experienced them earlier. But, what if the Braxton-Hicks contractions become painful? Usually, pregnant women think that there is something wrong, so they panic. Remember that if the contractions become more painful, it can mean that they are the real thing, and not Braxton-Hicks contractions. These real contractions will lead to childbirth. However, if they ease as time passes by, they are still Braxton-Hicks contractions. If your pregnancy has not reached the 37th week yet, and you have a watery or bloody discharge, lower back pain, menstrual-like cramps, fluid leak, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and pelvic pressure, call your doctor immediately because you might be going into premature labor. You should also call your doctor if you have passed the 37th-week mark and have any bleeding, water breaking, strong contractions every 5 minutes for an hour, you have constant and severe pain, or if your baby’s movement stopped or has unusually slowed down.

How long does Braxton-Hicks last?

Braxton-Hicks contractions usually last about 15-30 seconds, but can sometimes last for as long as two minutes. You can always relieve them by changing positions, drinking some water, urinating, drinking warm milk or tea, breathing rhythmically, taking a brief walk, getting a massage, eating a snack, and getting some rest or sleep.