What Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Feel Like?

Here's how you can tell if you're feeling Braxton Hicks contractions—or if the pain in your belly means that Baby is on the way.

Almost everyone gets Braxton Hicks contractions at some point during pregnancy, though you probably won't be able to feel them until you're more than 20 weeks along. These sporadic contractions are your body's way of practicing for labor, and they can even do some of the early work in helping your cervix start to soften.

Braxton Hicks contractions feel distinctly different from true labor contractions—but first-time parents may struggle to tell them apart.

What to Expect With Braxton Hicks Contractions

Here's what to expect with Braxton Hicks contractions and how to know when it's time to head to the hospital.

pregnant woman sitting at work

Braxton Hicks resembles menstrual cramps

Braxton Hicks contractions feel like random period cramps—a sudden tightening or hardening in your belly. The sensation is usually more uncomfortable than painful. Braxton Hicks doesn't get more intense than actual labor pains over time.

They're sporadic and irregular

These "false" contractions refuse to follow any predictable pattern; they occur randomly and sporadically. Some people experience the contractions several times daily, while others never detect Braxton Hicks while pregnant. On the other hand, real labor contractions will be more regular, occurring more often, and feeling stronger each time.

Did You Know?

Braxton Hicks got their name form the English doctor, Dr. John Braxton Hicks, who in 1872 realized that these contractions are different from labor contractions.

They last less than two minutes

Braxton Hicks contractions usually last between 30 seconds and two minutes. Some people notice them later in the day—possibly because they're more relaxed and in tune with their bodies. Labor contractions are different; they will start lasting between 30 and 90 seconds but become gradually more intense and last for more extended periods.

Braxton Hicks might change with each pregnancy

Detectable Braxton Hicks contractions can begin as early as the second trimester, around 20 weeks, but they are most commonly experienced in the third trimester. But during pregnancy number two (or three or four...), they may kick in earlier and be more intense. Pregnancy professionals are still scratching their heads about why this happens.

Sex can trigger them

Having penis-in-vagina intercourse during the second half of pregnancy may trigger false contractions. It seems that orgasms and the prostaglandins in semen can kick off these temporary uterine sensations. Orgasm (with or without penis penetration) can also trigger Braxton Hicks since climax will contract some muscles.

Dehydration can cause them

Braxton Hicks may also get worse from dehydration, so if they hit, you can also try drinking water and resting for a little while. Dehydration can negatively affect blood volume and amniotic fluid levels. If that happens, the body's response is to cramp, triggering Braxton Hicks. As a good measure of health, it is always important to stay hydrated, especially if you're pregnant.

Exercise or rest can help stop the contractions

Here's where things get a little tricky. If you move around too much from exercising, your body may respond with Braxton HIcks contractions, and you'll have to slow down and rest to help ease the cramping. However, if you've been resting and not moving very much, that can also trigger Braxton Hicks to start. To help reduce the cramping, you can get up and go for an easy walk to help calm down the pain.

If you feel those Braxton Hicks contractions, you can also try test-driving the breathing exercises you're learning for labor in your childbirth classes.

Braxton Hicks aren't accompanied by other symptoms

When you're in labor, you'll probably experience other symptoms, such as unusual vaginal discharge, abdominal pain or cramps, backaches, and water breaking. None of these happen with Braxton Hicks contractions. Call your doctor immediately if you feel contractions and are experiencing any symptoms such as bleeding, discharge, or your cramps ramping up in duration and intensity.

They feel the same for pregnancy with multiples

What does Braxton Hicks feel like with twins, triplets, or more babies? Experts claim they feel the same as singleton pregnancies—like a random tightening or hardening of the uterus that lasts less than two minutes. However, pregnancies with multiples are associated with a higher risk for preterm labor, so make sure you don't mistake Braxton Hicks for the real deal.

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