What are Braxton Hicks contractions and how to tell the difference

by Christie Mudie |

Once you come anywhere near your due date, the slightest ache is easily mistaken for the start of labour and emergency calls for your husband to get home from work. Right now. But sometimes those pains are a sign your body is just in the limbering up phase with Braxton Hicks.

Of course, if you’ve never had a baby before, it’s pretty tricky to know. But there are ways to tell the difference between those limbering up pains (hello, Braxton Hicks!) and the start of full-blown contractions...

What Braxton Hicks feels like:

Braxton Hicks feel like period pains that come and go. They’re usually not too painful and do not come at regular intervals. Unlike labour contractions, they don’t get closer together or feel stronger with time. It is normal to feel Braxton Hicks contractions during your third trimester, and sometimes they can happen as early as your second trimester.

They’re nothing to feel worried about and occur in many pregnancies. When you’re having Braxton Hicks, keep calm and try drinking a couple of glasses of water, as dehydration can trigger this type of twinge.

Relaxing in a warm bath should also help ease the discomfort. On the plus side, they are a sign that labour will soon be on its way.

You’ll know when you’re getting a full contraction…

There’s no ‘one contraction fits all’ – contractions vary from woman to woman, and even from pregnancy to pregnancy.

Contractions vary from woman to woman, and even from pregnancy to pregnancy

They can feel like a dull ache, and cause pain in your abdomen and lower back, as well as feelings of pressure in the pelvis. You may also feel pain in your thighs and around the sides of your stomach.

The tell-tale sign you’re having contractions is that they’ll get closer together and last for longer.

Read more: What do contractions *really* feel like?

Get through contractions at home

Deep breathing, having a bath or holding a hot water bottle against your lower back can all help with contractions when you are still at home and the contractions are just about bearable.

You can also use a TENS machine to help ease your pain.

When your contractions mean you should go to the hospital

You should be counting your contractions. When they start lasting 60 seconds or so, are five minutes apart and this has been the case for about an hour, you should call the hospital.

Your waters breaking is also a sign you need to tell a midwife about immediately.

When you reach a midwife, you’ll need to know this information:

  • Have your waters broken? If they have, try to remember the colour and the time when it happened.

  • How far apart and the length and intensity of your contractions

  • If you’ve had a bloody show

Now read:

The four breathing techniques you need for labour

How to time your contractions without a stopwatch

The early labour signs you need to look out for

Have you experienced Braxton Hicks contractions? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!

Make sure you're following Mother & Baby on Instagram for relatable memes, inspiring stories and parenting hacks!​

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us