Braxton-Hicks Contractions


What are these?
Braxton-Hicks are contractions of the uterus which can begin as early as 8 weeks of pregnancy and you may be aware of them from about 16 weeks onwards, particularly if it is not your first pregnancy. These tightenings are usually painless, but as the pregnancy gets nearer to full term, they can often be quite uncomfortable.

What should I do if I get them?
Generally, you dont have to do anything; they will ease off on their own. Later in pregnancy, you may find that certain activities set them off, such as excessive standing, walking, lifting, or carrying toddlers around. If so, and particularly if the tightenings are uncomfortable, listen to your body try to minimise the activities which aggravate them.

If you have a strenuous job, you will need to discuss this with your employer to ensure that you get regular breaks and a chance to sit down and rest. However, if you are under 37 weeks pregnant and have painful tightenings which do not ease off when you rest, you should contact your maternity unit for advice. They may ask you to come in, to make sure that you are not going into pre-term labour.

What if I think Im in labour and its only Braxton-Hicks contractions?
Dont worry about that - it can be quite difficult to tell the difference, even if you've had a baby before. If you think you might be in labour, you need to phone your maternity unit for advice.

The midwife will ask you to describe whether you have had any other signs of labour, what you are feeling with the contractions, how often they are coming, and how long they are lasting. For this reason it is better to make the call yourself, rather than getting somebody else to phone on your behalf. A midwife can usually tell if you are in established labour from the way you sound on the phone.

Braxton Hicks contractions are usually irregular, [both in frequency and in strength], or they may be regular for a while but then become irregular again. Sometimes they only last for a few seconds, but they can also last well over a minute. They may ease off if you sit down or lie down, and pick up again if you stand up and walk about. You will usually be able to talk through a Braxton Hicks contraction.

True labour contractions generally have a regular rhythm to them and will gradually increase in length, strength and frequency as time goes on. You may find them easier to cope with in an upright position, but they wont stop if you sit down. You probably wont be able to talk through contractions of established labour, and if you are walking about, you may find that you have to stand still until the contraction passes.

If the midwife thinks you have Braxton-Hicks contractions, or are in the very early stages of labour, she may suggest ways in which you can cope at home until either the contractions ease off again, or until labour is properly established. Things which can be helpful are a warm bath or shower, gentle massage, and creating a calm, soothing environment, using subdued lighting or candles and relaxing music.