What's all this about 'practise' contractions?
Braxton Hicks have been causing all kinds of bother amongst my Hypnobirthing tribeswomen recently!
So what exactly are they? And why are they giving mums the heebie-jeebies?
My baby bump keep going hard! I’m only 26 weeks pregnant! Is this normal?!
Braxton Hicks are a perfectly normal part of a perfectly normal pregnancy, and most women experience them, at some point. [you can read several mum's experiences of Braxton Hicks at the bottom of this post]
You might start to notice Braxton hicks during your second trimester of pregnancy, but more commonly in your third trimester.
Essentially, your baby bump will go hard for about 30 seconds, and then the tightening will wear off again shortly afterwards. This can happen a couple of times in one hour, and the length of the tightenings will vary…but this usually won’t occur more than a few times a day.
Sometimes one Braxton Hicks tightening can last for what seems like a very long time, and there may even be short periods where they occur quite frequently…but this generally only happens for short spells and they will eventually ease off.The key thing about Braxton hicks tightenings is that they might be uncomfortable, but they are not painful - in fact sometimes you’ll barely notice them at all - and they are infrequent and irregular. They don’t follow a particular pattern or rhythm, unlike true labour contractions, which are strong, frequent, regular…and markedly ‘painful.’
In ‘early’ labour contractions characteristically start slowly and less frequently, and the whole thing gradually crescendoes, with contractions become thick, fast, more rhythmic, eventually you don’t get much respite in between them...that's when shit's getting real.
And you'll know, honestly, you'll know!!!
Am I going into premature labour?
Understandably, mums can get a bit jittery when they first feel Braxton Hicks tightenings! Especially for the first time mums whose only prior knowledge of contractions is that your uterus goes hard! - they can join the dots and assume that this peculiar feeling must be labour!
Braxton Hicks have sometimes been referred to as ‘false labour’ because of this. I don't find this term especially useful as it implies that Braxton Hicks are an annoying trick that your womb plays on you, and that they serve no function, which may not necessarily be the case.The most important thing is that Braxton Hicks, as described above, are nothing to worry about and there's no correlation between having them and the likelihood that you will go into preterm labour. Lots of women have them as early as 20 weeks, and they go on to have healthy pregnancies at full term.
If it’s not labour - what’s the point in them then?
Although they may seem like a bit of a unpredictable and pointless nuisance, Braxton Hicks may actually be doing something quite useful to prepare your body for labour, behind the scenes...
Your uterus is basically a HUGE bag of muscle, and like any muscle it works better when it’s toned and prepped for the marathon job in hand. Braxton Hicks are thought to be one way that your Uterus tones itself into shape for the mega task it’s going to perform during your labour.
In starting to ‘draw up’ the uterine muscles, with these little practise contractions, Braxton Hicks may also have some effect on toning the muscles of your cervix, and beginning to thin this lower part of the uterus. This will later come in useful for labour, where your cervix needs to be soft and supple in order to dilate….
As is the case with other aspects of labour, your body is exquisitely designed to do this job very well - and our bodies are often more canny than we anticipate - so don’t imagine that all of this tightening isn't actually doing something useful…
What's more, Braxton Hicks contractions are a perfect opportunity to practise you Hypnobirthing breathing and visualisation techniques for the real event! Don’t worry – these visualisation techniques won’t somehow ramp up the Braxton hicks into ‘true’ contractions and bring on/induce labour (it would be useful if they did!)"Towards the the end of my pregnancy, every time I got Braxton Hicks I'd practise deep slow breathing and repeat in my head 'my uterus is thinning and softening' and about a week before my due date I'd say 'my uterus is thinning and opening'. That all sounds a bit hippy but who knows if it made a difference! The deep breathing was definitely good practise! And I ended up having a very efficient and straight forward labour…." Emily
How is ‘real’ labour different? How will I know when it's the real deal?
Labour contractions have 3 distinct features:
If these tightenings become more strong, painful, and rhythmic and they don’t ‘ease off’ as described above then you could be going into labour. In this case it is important to go into hospital if the contractions are regular and frequent.
- If you are less than 37 weeks - then you should go to hospital as soon as this happens.
- If you are 37 weeks or beyond, then follow the advise you have been given by your Midwife about what to do when you go into labour...
You should also go to hospital, at any gestation (number of weeks pregnant you are) if your waters break or you are bleeding.
And as always it is important to be aware of your baby’s movements; A baby’s movements are a good indicator of it’s wellbeing, so if you feel they are less than usual at any point in your pregnancy then you should seek medical help. You can read more about this on the 'count the kicks’ website which has lots of useful information about the importance of being aware of changes in your baby’s movements.
What mums say:
"During my pregnancy I would have periods of lots of Braxton Hicks in a short time. I remember that at 36 weeks I had an evening where my belly felt hard for about an hour...we called the birth centre who said it didn't mean anything unless they were painful - which they weren't...Otis arrived at 40weeks and 2 days so they were right!" - Sherina
"I had bad braxton hicks with my 2nd baby, at about 39weeks. They lasted about 4 hrs and were every 5 mins. I genuinely believed I was in labour so the Mother-in-Law started the 3.5hour drive to me. They stopped by the time she arrived. lol" - Clare
"I had noticeably uncomfortable - but I wouldn't say painful - Braxton Hicks from 32 weeks. Some days I would have 3 every hour ...I went to my hospital in Paris and they gave me a scan and saw that my cervix had shortened so I was told to rest and take it easy until 37 weeks...I went on to have a healthbaby boy at 40 weeks, and a very swift labour!" - Ellie
"I never experienced any Braxton Hicks! I remember clearly waking up in what eventually turned out to be the early stages of labour, thinking that these niggly pains must be Braxton Hicks! That was my first labour, 10 days early, only 6 hours of active labour, Normal birth and no pain relief needed!" - Linda
"Initially, I thought this brief tightening sensation was the baby shifting position but it became a little clearer as weeks went by that it was something my body was doing. From about 22 weeks I have had constant Braxton Hicks, they're pretty strong and sometimes wake me up in the night. I usually get a couple throughout the day and then most in the evenings. To begin with they scared the living daylights out of me - I'd already figured out what they were but was concerned that they would lead me to starting a premature labour. Whilst they're a bit unpleasant, they are also irregular in the time that they last and the time in-between. Also they are painless and never accompanied by any other labour signs; they just seem to be part of my pregnancy - something that my midwives have also assured me of too. I'm 29 weeks now and am pretty sure that for the next 11 or so I'll continue having them, but when I'm ready to start labour my body will be good and ready to go because of them!" Cara