Baby Hints & Tips

Braxton hicks – how to tell if it’s real labour or just braxton hicks

What are Braxton Hicks contractions?

Braxton HIcks - How to tell if it's braxton hicks or labour

Braxton hicks contractions are a feeling of tightening across your uterus when pregnant that can begin in the second trimester.  Braxton hicks often increase in frequency and intensity throughout the pregnancy.  They will often decrease if you increase your activity level.

(Medical disclaimer: Tips provided need to be considered in conjunction with medical advice. For immediate concerns, please contact HealthDirect (Australia wide) ph 1800 022 222 – to talk to a registered nurse 24hrs a day, and in emergencies call 000.)

How can you tell the difference between braxton hicks and real labour contractions?

If it’s your first pregnancy, every pain and “weird feeling” can cause you alarm.  Like the 12 week “pop” where the ligaments around your uterus rapidly change, you may find yourself worried about braxton hicks as a sign of something wrong.  This worry is normal.  Braxton hicks contractions are normal.  Don’t stress.  Breathe.

Is it braxton hicks or real labour?

  • Braxton hicks begin as early as the second trimester.
  • Moving around can decrease the occurrence and intensity of braxton hicks
  • Braxton hicks happen sporadically with no “trigger”
  • They can feel like a “tight” bump.
  • Braxton hicks have no ‘pattern’ they do not come at regular intervals and do not get closer together as time passes
  • “Real” contractions last from 30 seconds to about a minute, braxton hicks can last much longer
  • Real contractions tend to intensify in pain, braxton hicks are often described as moderate to bad period cramps.
  • Braxton hicks are usually felt “in the uterus”, real labour contractions are felt in your back and often feel like they’re “moving” from your back into your uterus.

“I only got Braxton Hicks with my second pregnancy from 25 weeks. They were often such an intense tightening that i’d have to stop whatever I was doing until it passed.” Evelyn

Worried you could be going into early labour?

For some women, labour does come early (read more here about premature labour)!  It’s always important to listen to your body and seek medical treatment for you and your baby.  If you have timed your contractions and they’re rhythmic, persistent and getting more intense, you could be entering early labour.  If in doubt, always seek medical treatment, even if you’re wrong and it is braxton hicks, you’ll know that you and your baby are totally safe!  Read more about early labour signs here.

Community Question: What was your experience with Braxton Hicks?

We asked our community of Australian mums what their experience of braxton hicks was like.  Does it match yours?  Does any of their responses sound like your current pregnancy symptoms?  It’s always nice to know that other women have been there too!

When did you first get braxton hicks?

  • I only had it once, I was 34 weeks or so, I was watching TV in bed with hubby and all of a sudden I got painful period pain like cramps that would last a few minutes or do. They were pretty intense, scared my husband too, he was up out of bed ready to get in the car and take me to hossy 😉 Olivia
  • I got Braxton Hicks from 32 weeks and they were just as painful as the first stage as labour I was in hospital twice for false labour and they were so strong my waters broke then nothing happened 🙂 Cassie
  • I had them with both pregnancies. First was at 27wks; second was at 17wks. My belly went really really tight and I thought it was my daughter poking her bum out. They weren’t too uncomfortable in that pregnancy, where as with my son, they started early and sucked lol. They got that uncomfortable towards the end that when I had one, I wasn’t able to move. Wendy
  • I am 34 weeks with my first child and at 28 weeks I had them that bad I ended up in hosp for 8 hours being monitored for early labor but it turned out I overdid it and needed to take it easier. And since then I get them all the all the time but they are not always painful, my belly just goes really tight and uncomfortable and the painful ones r like really bad period pain!! Abbie

Can you describe what braxton hicks felt like for you?

  • My belly would just go super tight sometimes, felt like I couldn’t breathe not painful though. Terianne
  • Same my belly would go really tight that I couldn’t even walk . But they say try walking when you get Braxton hicks but I couldn’t do I had to bare with the pain lol. Sharni
  • Tightening and painful. Takes your breathe away – just like contractions. Jorja
  • My first pregnancy I didn’t even realise I was having them, I just thought that it was the baby pushing out against me!! But now I realise when my belly goes all tight and hard, that is braxton hicks 🙂 Ange
  • I had lots with all 3 of my children, starting earlier with each one. My belly tightened so hard that it felt like a rock, it was pretty uncomfortable but not painful, and seemed to happen whenever the baby moved or when I moved, especially if I was tired, stressed, or lifting anything. I’ve heard that when you get them to lie down and have a rest. Libby
  • Braxton Hicks contractions….. A good reminder of what’s to come! Think of them as doing a warm up, getting ready, training for the main event. Usually more frequent in 2nd and subsequent pregnancies! Enjoy! Anita
  • I was the same! I didn’t even know they were BH with my first pregnancy. I thought it was just bub getting in a funny position. Not painful just slightly uncomfortable. Wasn’t until I was being monitored when being induced & the nurses pointed out that that was what it was, before labour kicked in. With my son I had a couple at 30 weeks then nothing much till 30 hours before he was born when they started every 10 mins lasting for a minute. Then progressed into painful contractions 🙂 Lauren
  • It’s normal for first pregnancies that you don’t get them or are only light. Any after its common to get them more. Marcia
  • I hardly had them with my 1st, now pregnant with my 2nd and I’ve had them since about 30 weeks, its a very intense feeling like my lungs are getting squashed and my tummy goes rock hard, cant even push your finger into it! now at 36 weeks when i get them i can see the baby as my tummy tightens around it. Sometimes i’ll get cramping at the bottom of my tummy with them but to me its no way near real labour contractions! Brooke
  • With my first and second they were like intense period pains. now with my fourth I barely notice them. It’s just a hardening of my stomach and a little bit uncomfortable, not painful. Kitty
  • I only got BH 3 nights in a row at 6pm for about an hour. On the 4th night went into labour at 7pm. My body was definitely practising! Felt like period pains and a tightening of muscles around lower tummy (sort of like a lag cramp). Mine were nothing compared to labour! Lol Kiah
  • I don’t remember really having them at all during my first (and only so far) pregnancy. Had a few tightening pains now and then but nothing that was really braxton hicks. As I had a medical c-section, I never felt any pre-labour contractions either, so have nothing to compare with. Katie
  • I had Braxton hicks throughout both my pregnancies from very early on (16 weeks and 20 weeks). I explain them as being in mid sit-up position continuously! They would get worst when walking or exercise of any sort but were never painful just very uncomfortable. My stomach was literally like a rock sometimes! But both my births were very quick (9hrs and 2.5hrs) so maybe all that practice paid off? Sue


What was your braxton hicks experience? Share in the comments below

Read about when Braxton Hicks started for other mums and how mums knew the is this Braxton Hicks or real labour.  Remember that braxton hicks, while a natural and common part of pregnancy, can be mis-interpreted.  If in doubt, call your doctor.  It’s always better to be safe (and feeling silly for over-reacting) than sorry!

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