Side Effects of Pregnancy On You

Braxton Hicks Contractions

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What is a Braxton Hicks contraction?

At some point during your second trimester, you may start to notice your uterus tightening and your bump becoming hard. There is no cause for concern as what you are experiencing is a Braxton Hicks contraction. They can start as early as 16 weeks, although some might not start until the third trimester and some women will never really notice them. The uterus actually begins these gentle contractions from around 7 weeks of pregnancy but you are unlikely to feel them so early.

A Braxton Hicks contraction usually only lasts around 30 seconds and is rarely painful, it can just feel a little strange. You may experience them a couple of times in an hour or a few times a day. Every woman is different when it comes to their experience of Braxton Hicks.

Braxton Hicks contractions are named after the English doctor, Dr. John Braxton, who first explained them in 1872.

What do they do?

There is no hard evidence for why women have Braxton Hicks during pregnancy, but experts have given their theories about this. Some believe that Braxton Hicks contractions are your body's way of keeping your uterus toned up ready for labour and birth. Your body needs to be in tip-top condition to push a baby out so your muscles need to be well rehearsed for the main event.

Medical experts are divided on their opinions of the effect that the contractions have on the cervix. Some believe that they help to shorten and stretch the cervix making it dilate in preparation for birth. In some ways, Braxton Hicks are like the rehearsals for the labour. However, other experts believe that the cervix does change until the last days before pregnancy or even until labour itself.

Will I know the difference between a Braxton Hicks and a contraction?

You will definitely know the difference. A Braxton Hicks, though sometimes quite strong, is only a practice contraction so when the real contractions start they will be much stronger, like there is a purpose to them. When labour begins you will know it.

But just in case you are still unsure, there are a few small tips to help you tell the difference:

Braxton Hicks

  • Occur infrequently - perhaps one or two times a few times throughout the day.
  • Do not happen in regular intervals.
  • If you change what you are doing when a Braxton Hicks starts it can stop just as quickly, i.e. if you change from sitting to standing, walking to sitting etc.
  • Are very short, perhaps only lasting a minute.
  • Always have the same intensity.


  • Are more intense.
  • Last longer.
  • Are more frequent at regular intervals.
  • The more they occur, the stronger and more regular they become.

My Braxton Hicks are painful, what does this mean?

The further along in your pregnancy you are, the more common it is for your Braxton Hicks to become painful. This is because the muscles are being put under more pressure to work harder. Providing they begin to ease off soon after starting then the contractions are definitely Braxton Hicks. Use them as an opportunity to practice your breathing for labour.

Some gentle activities can spark off Braxton Hicks, for example when doing the hovering. If they become uncomfortable, stop what you are doing and go for a walk or lie down for a rest until they subside.

False labour

Occasionally, Braxton Hicks can become more rhythmic and can occur every 10 to 20 minutes or so during late pregnancy. This can be quite confusing and is often mistaken for the start of labour. It is in fact a false labour. Your cervix will not begin to change during a false labour, so if you are unsure whether you are in labour a midwife would be able to tell you via an internal examination.

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