Whether you’re a first time or veteran mom, “Braxton Hicks” seem to be a hot topic in pregnancy — what are they, why do you get them, and how do they differ from true contractions? Many moms recount stories of false alarms where they ventured to the hospital sure of their impending labor, only to be sent home and told that the contractions were false. Here’s a brief guide to help you learn more about Braxton Hicks and how to spot them.
What are Braxton Hicks?
First, what are Braxton Hicks contractions? Your uterus is a muscle, which means that anything irritating it can cause it to contract. Though Braxton Hicks contractions are common, everyone will experience them differently — some moms feel them quite often, while others never do. In short, a Braxton Hicks contraction does not cause cervical dilation, whereas true contractions during labor will dilate and soften your cervix. This can be frustrating for many women who confuse Braxton Hicks contractions with true labor. Though you can experience Braxton Hicks at any point in pregnancy, they are typically the most common during your last trimester, and you often feel them earlier in your pregnancy with subsequent babies.
What Causes Them?
There are several reasons why an expecting mom might experience Braxton Hicks contractions, but overall, they occur simply as a result of being pregnant. Other triggers include increased activity (which is another reason why expecting moms need to rest as much as possible!), dehydration, and urinary tract infections (UTIs). It’s important that pregnant moms stay hydrated, rest often, and fuel their bodies with healthy foods — including the right amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
What do Braxton Hicks feel like, and how can you differentiate them from true labor?
This is a challenging question to answer, because Braxton Hicks contractions can feel differently to each mom. They are often described as making your uterus feel tense, and almost like a ball shape. Some women report that Braxton Hicks are uncomfortable for them, while others experience true pain.
The best way to differentiate Braxton Hicks contractions from true labor is to recognize that true labor is more consistent. If you experience contractions, drink a glass of water and lay on your left side, then begin tracking the contractions. There are many great smartphone apps you can use to do this, or you can simply use a pen and paper. If you’re in true labor, the contractions will grow in intensity and remain consistent. Braxton Hicks, on the other hand, can often be relieved with hydration, rest, or light activity.
As always, do not ever hesitate to reach out to your birth team and provider if you have any questions about differentiating Braxton Hicks from true labor, or if you think you might be experiencing labor. They will direct you on the best course of action to take that aligns with your past medical history and birth plan.
Jessica Rockowitz is a former OB/GYN Health Educator. She obtained her undergraduate degree in Biotechnology with a minor in Marketing from Endicott College. Upon graduation, Jessica worked in stem cell research at Harvard University and simultaneously volunteered with teen parents and disadvantaged women. Being a former teen parent herself, she has always been passionate about serving young moms and helping empower them to achieve their goals. Itching to pursue a field with more patient interaction, Jessica left the research field and attended a second degree nursing program at The University of Pennsylvania. She then worked in the field of OB/GYN Health Education at a women’s health clinic in downtown Philadelphia. Jessica is also a mother of three and has experienced both a traditional hospital birth with an epidural, followed by two unmedicated birth center births. She likes to think of herself as the perfect balance between holistic and pro-science. When Jessica’s second child was a little over a year, she turned her passion for serving others into a marketing and photography career in Austin, TX where she lives with her husband, three children, and rescue fur baby.