Pregnant mother holding her back & belly bump.

If you’re pregnant, you’ve probably heard of Braxton Hicks contractions. But what exactly are they? And how in the world will you know if you’re having a “false” contraction or if it’s the real deal? Here’s what you need to know about Braxton Hicks—why they happen, what they feel like, and how to tell the difference between Braxton Hicks and real labor contractions.

What Are Braxton Hicks Contractions? 

Braxton Hicks contractions are actually your body’s way of practicing for the main event (labor and childbirth). These contractions don’t actually cause labor, or dilate the cervix like contractions do during labor—but it’s believed that these spontaneous contractions are your body’s way of preparing and toning your uterus for eventual labor (and birth). While it’s easy to get excited when you’re late in your pregnancy and you feel a Braxton Hicks contraction…we’re sorry to report that they don’t necessarily mean labor is soon. 

What Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Feel Like? 

While some ladies barely notice them (or simply can’t tell they’re happening), other women may experience Braxton Hicks that can be a bit uncomfortable or take their breath away.

Signs you’re having a Braxton Hicks contraction include: 

  • The front of your belly gets hard or tight in the upper abdomen, then spreads downwards
  • Your belly becomes almost pointy looking (sometimes when you’re having a Braxton Hicks it can even be mistaken for baby pressing outward from inside your belly)
  • You feel a bit uncomfortable or might have trouble bending over or moving during the contraction
  • The contractions last 30 seconds or so (up to two minutes for some), and don’t come in a regular pattern

When Will I Experience Braxton Hicks Contractions? 

Braxton Hicks are most common in the final few weeks of pregnancy, and typically become more frequent as you get closer to your due date. Some mamas might start noticing Braxton Hicks as early as the second trimester, especially if it’s not their first pregnancy.

Braxton Hicks can be triggered by certain activities, such as: movement after being still for a while, exercise, a full bladder (or emptying your bladder), having sex, baby’s movement, dehydration…(if you’re feeling like anything can trigger them, you’re totally right). If you’re having Braxton Hicks frequently, you can try a few things to try and ease them like: drinking water, resting, taking a warm (not hot) bath, or another calming activity.

How Will I Know the Difference Between Braxton Hicks and Labor Contractions?

The best way to know if you are truly in labor or not is to time your contractions (there are a lot of apps that have built-in contraction timers). When you’re actually in labor, your contractions will start to come in a regular pattern with increased strength and frequency (and they’ll begin to take your breath away). Braxton Hicks don’t come in a pattern—they’ll start to taper off, then go away. Some pregnant people notice that if they change their activity (ex: laying down if they’ve been active, or taking a walk if they’ve been sitting for a while), their Braxton Hicks contractions will stop. When it’s time for the real thing, nothing will change or stop your contractions.

If you’re unsure if you’re experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions or are truly in labor, give your provider a call! They’ll be able to ask you questions about the timing and frequency of your contractions, and assess whether you should be evaluated.