What are Braxton Hicks?

As the birth approaches, many women experience occasional tightening around the bump. But what is it and should you worry?

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Not every woman experiences Braxton Hicks contractions before she has her baby, just as not every woman experiences a gushing waters breaking moment. However, the first time you get Braxton Hicks, it is a strange sensation and for many, one of first hints at what the coming weeks, or in some cases, months, are going to bring.

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What are Braxton Hicks?
These are contractions which feel like a tightening, or hardening around your bump. It is the muscles flexing, in order to get the uterus prepared for the actual contractions which will naturally help push your baby out during labour.
Braxton Hicks can begin to occur around week 20 of your pregnancy, but possibly earlier, especially if you have had a baby before.
They do not mean you are due to go into labour any time soon.

Are Braxton Hicks painful?
The contracting sensation begins at the top of your bump and moves downwards, usually lasting for about half a minute at a time, but sometimes for maybe twice that duration.
While they might feel uncomfortable or twingey, they are not painful like regular contractions will be.
However, as you get into the last month of your pregnancy, they may become more intense and start to feel a little painful. At this point, even women who have experienced them for several weeks may think they are going into labour.
You may find that sitting down or resting with your feet up makes you feel better. In other cases, moving or walking around helps to take away the discomfort.

How will I know Braxton Hicks are not the real labour?
In the last couple of weeks of pregnancy, some women’s Braxton Hicks do feel much more intense. They can even bring about early stages of dilation. However, if you talk about pre-labour, false labour and actual labour in your ante-natal classes, your midwife should be able to offer you some more guidance to help your instincts.
Unless you have a condition which your ante-natal carers have already said will determine when you should call for help or go to hospital, it is very likely that your midwife will tell you that even in real labour, staying at home for a long as possible, dealing with pain and discomfort through exercises, breathing, massage from your partner and possibly a soothing bath, is best. Going to hospital too early can, for example, slow the birth down.
If your pain is Braxton Hicks, it is very unlikely to continue for long enough for you to believe you are in full labour.
Additionally, some midwives like to speak to the mother-to-be during this time. So, if a partner calls to say a woman is having severe contractions, the midwife can often tell by speaking (or being unable to speak!) to the woman herself. This gives the midwife a sense of how regular and deep the contractions are and therefore whether full labour is taking place.

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Be aware of what your body is telling you
At any point in your pregnancy, if the Braxton Hicks contractions become regular – several in one hour rather than once or twice a day – and do become painful, call your GP or midwife.
Contact your midwife or GP immediately if the pain is in your back, abdomen or pelvis. Or if there is a discharge when you have the contractions.
If there is concern about potential premature birth, then do mention them straight away to your GP or midwife, when you start to get them during your pregnancy.
Mention them at your next regular check-up if they are making you feel particularly uncomfortable.

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