Braxton Hicks Contractions – False Labour Pain during Pregnancy

Very few women pass through pregnancy without any anxious moments, and Braxton Hicks contractions are among the experiences that can cause a lot of anxiety. Braxton Hicks Contractions or false labour can be described as your body’s way of preparing you for the big day when you bring your baby into the world. False alarms are a way of life for pregnant women, and Braxton Hicks contractions feel like the real thing.

What are Braxton Hicks Contractions (False Labour) in Pregnancy?

You could occasionally experience sporadic uterine contractions. These are known as Braxton Hicks contractions and are named after John Braxton Hicks, a British doctor who defined them first in 1872. These contractions are difficult to distinguish from labour pains and hence are known as false labour pains. They may become rhythmic and occur quite close to each other, and you could be fooled into thinking you are going into labour. There is no fixed time when they could happen. Sometimes, waking up in the middle of the night with a full bladder or a dehydrated body could trigger Braxton Hicks contractions.

The main role of these contractions is toning the uterine muscles and improving blood flow to the placenta. Although there is no evidence of these contractions helping to dilate the cervix, they do lead to the softening of the cervix, helping the dilation process. They also help in effacement, which is the process of preparing the cervix for delivery, by softening and thinning it.

What Do False Contractions Feel Like?

When Braxton Hicks contractions begin, you will feel a general tightening or squeezing together of the lower abdominal area and uterus followed by moments of relaxation, before the next contraction begins. They are easily identifiable due to their irregularity and their sporadic occurrence. These contractions can get quite uncomfortable and could cause alarm to pregnant women.

When Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Start During Pregnancy?

Braxton Hicks contractions can start anytime after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but they become noticeable only in later pregnancy. Starting as minor discomfort, they may increase to mimic labour pains and have been known to cause false alarms among many pregnant women.

These contractions usually cause less pain as compared to real labour, and there is no fixed frequency at which they occur. They are akin to the menstrual cramps, and some women experience a tight sensation in the lower portion of the abdomen.

However, as the pregnancy progresses, the strength and frequency of the contractions change too. Braxton Hicks contractions at 30 weeks can last between 30 seconds and two minutes and could resemble actual labour pain.

You should consult the doctor if the pain becomes severe or you are in any kind of doubt about the nature of the contractions.

How Early Can You Get Braxton Hicks Contractions?

The contractions can begin as early as the second trimester. However, you may not notice them till you are midway through your pregnancy. The frequency of these contractions increases as your pregnancy evolves.

Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Feel Like Period Cramps?

When you get Braxton Hicks contractions during pregnancy, it does feel like revisiting period cramps all over again, even though these contractions are felt higher in the stomach area as opposed to menstrual cramps. Also, there is no pain in the lower or deep pelvic area which is common during menstrual pain.

How to Identify Braxton Hicks Contractions

Almost all women get these contractions, though they go unnoticed till you have passed 20 weeks. Braxton Hicks contractions can be identified quickly since they generally do not cause any pain and they stop if you shift position or if you change the activity you are engaged in when the contractions occurred. These contractions do not follow a fixed pattern or regular intervals nor does the interval get shorter with every contraction.

Difference Between Braxton Hicks Contractions and True Labour

Braxton Hicks contractions are as uncomfortable but not as intense as real labour pains. However, they do not cause labour or lead to the opening of the cervix. If you are experiencing contractions, ask yourself the following questions to understand if they are Braxton Hicks contractions or true labour pains:

1. What Is the Frequency and Duration of The Contractions?

During false labour, the contractions are usually irregular. They do not get closer together as time goes by. In contrast, contractions during true labour last for anything between 30 to 70 seconds and are bunched together getting stronger as time goes by

2. Do the Contractions Stop During Movement?

Braxton Hicks contractions may stop if you change your position, take a short walk or come to rest. Real labour pain does not respond to movement or change of position and continues even if you lie down to rest your body

3. How Strong are These Contractions?

Contractions during false labour are usually weak, and you will not experience any increase in their intensity. Alternatively, they could also begin stronger and grow weaker. As opposed to this, real labour pain begins on a lower threshold and grows stronger in a steady, unwavering manner

4. What Is the Location of The Pain?

Pain due to Braxton Hicks contractions is usually felt at the front of the abdomen or pelvic area. True labour begins with intense contractions and generally begins in your lower back and gradually moves towards the frontal area of your abdomen. It could also make itself felt in the reverse direction, that is, from the abdomen to the back.

When Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Become More Painful?

The frequency of Braxton Hicks contractions increases as your pregnancy progresses but they generally remain painless till you get to the third trimester of the pregnancy. As the due date nears and you are within two to three weeks of the big day, the contractions grow in intensity and their frequency increases too. During this time, the pain rises and begins to cause discomfort.

Causes of Braxton Hicks Contractions

During your pregnancy, you can experience Braxton Hicks contractions due to the following reasons:

  • If you are active most of the time and engage in body movements, these contractions can get triggered due to the baby’s movement inside the womb
  • If your bladder is full, it could lead to Braxton Hicks contractions
  • If someone touches your belly, it could trigger these contractions
  • Sexual excitement can lead to contractions, especially after the act
  • If your body is dehydrated to lower than normal levels, it can be the cause for contractions

Symptoms of Braxton Hicks Contractions Which Need Attention

While Braxton Hicks contractions are generally not something to worry about, you may want to talk to your doctor if contractions are increasing in frequency and are getting painful, prior to your reaching 37th week. Watch out for these symptoms of Braxton Hicks contractions in the third trimester:

  • Cramping or abdominal pain
  • Increased vaginal discharge, bleeding or spotting
  • Growing pain in the lower back or pelvic region
  • More than four contractions in an hour

In case you notice any of these symptoms, consult your doctor.

Braxton Hicks Contractions Treatment

Although these contractions do not hurt in most cases, you may find yourself getting uncomfortable and uneasy. You can try the following measures to ease this discomfort and alleviate any pain that may accompany it:

  • As soon as the Braxton Hicks contractions begin, change the current position you are in or the present activity you are engaged in. If you are walking, rest for some time and if you are resting, make a quick attempt to walk, albeit slowly
  • If dehydration is the cause for the contractions, you should drink some water and keep yourself hydrated to avoid recurrence of the contractions. A warm cup of herbal tea will also help you
  • Engage in some relaxation exercise or practise slow yet deep breathing for a while. Though this will not stop the contractions, you will feel better and relaxed
  • Relieve yourself immediately if your bladder is feeling full. This can reduce Braxton Hicks contractions. Remember, a full bladder irritates the uterus. If you are travelling, ensure you take enough restroom breaks to keep the discomfort of contractions away
  • Grab a cookie or a biscuit if you are getting regular contractions and avoid getting hunger pangs by taking small and nutritious meals at regular intervals
  • If you are up to it, a warm and relaxing bath for 30 minutes can help in reducing Braxton Hicks contractions. You could also cuddle up with a warm water bag or bottle wrapped in a soft towel

Does Every Pregnant Woman Get Braxton Hicks Contractions?

Every pregnant woman experiences Braxton Hicks contractions in varying degrees. You may get contractions and fail to identify them as a Braxton Hicks contractions since the intensity may be quite low, especially in the initial stages of pregnancy.

It is best to discuss Braxton Hicks contractions with your doctor. As each pregnancy is different, your doctor will help you understand the symptoms or alarms you should watch for. If you are not sure of the contractions you are experiencing, do call the doctor and follow his/her advice.