Braxton Hicks are commonly described as the "dress rehearsal" to childbirth, as your uterine muscles start to flex in preparation for the big job they'll have to do in the near future.
As your pregnancy progresses during the third trimester, Braxton Hicks contractions tend to occur more often, but until you get to your last few weeks, they'll probably remain relatively infrequent and painless.
However, sometimes Braxton Hicks are hard to distinguish from the early signs of pre-term labour, so be smart and don't try to make the diagnosis yourself.
If you haven't hit 37 weeks yet and you're having regular contractions, or if you have any of the signs of pre-term labour, call your doctor right away.
What do Braxton Hicks feel like?
When you have any kind of contraction, whether it is Braxton Hicks or actual labour, you will feel your uterus begin to tighten or squeeze, and then relax. Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular and usually don't hurt, though they may be uncomfortable and occasionally are strong and painful.
How can I tell the difference between Braxton Hicks and actual labour?
In the days and weeks leading up to your labour, Braxton Hicks may start to become rhythmic, quite close together, and even painful in some cases - fooling many mums-to-be that they are going into labour.
But unlike actual labour, Braxton Hicks contractions during this fake labour period usually don't grow consistently longer, stronger, and closer together.
When can Braxton Hicks occur?
Braxton Hicks contractions can happen at any time, but you're most likely to notice them at night, if you are dehydrated or have a full bladder, and during physical activity or sex.
What can I do to ease the discomfort of Braxton Hicks?
- Rehydrate: any sort of dehydration can cause Braxton Hicks contractions, so be sure to drink as much as you can.
- Get moving: Try changing your position during a painful Braxton Hicks contraction.
- Relax: Use these Braxton Hicks as a chance to practice your breathing and visualisation techniques you've learned in your childbirth education class.
When should I contact my doctor?
If you haven't reached 37 weeks yet, call your doctor right away if your contractions are becoming more painful or frequent, or if you have any of these signs of pre-term labour:
- Abdominal pain or menstrual-like cramping
- Regular contractions
- Any vaginal bleeding
- An increase in vaginal discharge
- A change in the type of discharge
- More pressure in the pelvic or lower abdominal area
- Lower back pain
If you are past 37 weeks, ask your doctor when you should call to let them know. In actual labour, your contractions will come at regular intervals, last 30 to 90 seconds, get steadily stronger, and happen more frequently, no matter what you do.
Call your doctor or go to the hospital if:
- Your water breaks
- You have vaginal bleeding
- Your contractions are coming five minutes or less apart.
- You have constant, severe pain