What's the deal with Braxton Hicks?

What are braxton hicks contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions are sometimes called “pre-labour contractions” or "practice contractions" and are simply the muscles of your uterus contracting. The key difference between "true" birth contractions and Braxton Hicks contractions is that Braxton Hicks don't get longer, stronger, or closer together. 

Is this labour or Braxton Hicks?

Peterborough doula braxton hicks

What you are feeling is likely Braxton Hicks and NOT labour if: 

  • The contractions are uncomfortable, but not intense or painful
  • There is no clear pattern (ie. they are coming at different intervals)
  • They are not getting closer together
  • They are not getting consistently stronger
  • If you drink water, rest, and breathe they simply fade away
[Braxton Hicks] are named for the English doctor who first described them in 1872. After Dr. John Braxton Hicks noted that many of his patients felt contractions but were not actually in labor, he studied the phenomenon to help clear up the confusion.
— Shivani Patel, M.D.

What causes Braxton Hicks contractions?

Two of the most common causes for Braxton Hicks contractions seem to be dehydration and having sex or generally overexerting yourself. Sound familiar?  Probably!

Dehydration.

Drinking lots of water during pregnancy is important. You have close to doubled your blood volume and you are also creating and maintaining that beautiful uterine water world full of amniotic fluid, after all! When a pregnant person gets dehydrated - even mildly - it can throw the chemical balance of their body off kilter and their uterus can interpret this as a signal to start contracting.  Hot days, working too hard, exercising too vigorously, and even just the regular hustle and bustle of daily life can mean that you are not getting enough water!  Drink up, friends.

 If you are having trouble drinking enough water, try adding fruit into the mix!  Keep it fun.

If you are having trouble drinking enough water, try adding fruit into the mix!  Keep it fun.

Sexy Time.

Sex can be amazing during pregnancy because of the extra sensitivity in your breasts, vulva, and vagina. Yay!  A potential downside is that it is very common to experience Braxton Hicks contractions after sex (this includes any kind of sex, penetrative or otherwise) for a couple of reasons.  Orgasms release oxytocin and semen (if your partner happens to have some!) has something called "prostaglandins" both of which can cause your uterus to contract.  If you find that sex is making you crampy afterwards, drink some water and rest to allow things to settle back down afterwards. 

What do Braxton Hicks contractions do?!

The long and short of it is... not much other than annoy you. Most commonly it is thought that Braxton Hicks contractions are your body's way of toning and strengthening the uterus throughout pregnancy.  They are not associated with any significant cervical changes except maybe at the very end of your pregnancy when they tend to get longer and stronger as your body prepares for labour.  In a nutshell, they are just "one of those things" when you are a pregnant person.  Boo!

Can you stop Braxton Hicks?

Luckily, there are some simple things you can do to try and keep those pesky Braxton Hicks contractions under control.

Drink up!  Water is your BFF during pregnancy. You should be downing around 2L of water each day.  Get creative!  Herbal teas, lemon water, soup broths, and even home made low-sugar popsicles can all help to get you to the 2L a day goal!

 Curl up and read a book, watch a movie, take a nap, or enjoy some snuggles with your favourite people or pets. Rest is so important for your pregnant body!

Curl up and read a book, watch a movie, take a nap, or enjoy some snuggles with your favourite people or pets. Rest is so important for your pregnant body!

Make time for R&R.  Rest. Sleep. Snooze. Put those puffy pregnant feet up!  Your body is creating an entire tiny human - it is exhausting and you need to make yourself a priority. 

Stay active!  Yes - we just told you to rest, but it is all about balance, right?  Staying active by choosing gentle activities helps your muscles stay toned and your circulation stay strong.  Swimming, walking, or maybe some prenatal yoga would all be great choices for someone who is trying to avoid bringing on a bout of Braxton Hicks. 

When should you call your doctor or midwife?

Braxton Hicks contractions are usually just a nuisance but it is important to pay attention to what your body is telling you.  If you are having a bout of Braxton Hicks and you notice the following, reach out to your doctor or midwife. 

  • the contractions are becoming stronger
  • a consistent contraction pattern shaping up 
  • any leaking fluids or spotting

So just remember....

Braxton Hicks can be a normal part of your pregnancy and are usually just "one of those things". Take good care of yourself, listen to your body, and keep your health care providers updated and you will be able to keep those pesky "practice" contractions in line!