What do Braxton Hicks feel like?

How do Braxton Hicks contractions differ from true labor contractions?

Knowing how to identify Braxton Hicks will help you relax during your pregnancy and be more prepared when baby’s birth day finally arrives.

Read on to find out: 

  • What are Braxton Hicks contractions?
  • What week do Braxton Hicks start?
  • What do Braxton Hicks feel like?
  • How long do Braxton Hicks contractions last?
  • What causes Braxton Hicks?
  • What’s the difference between Braxton Hicks and “real” contractions?
  • Are Braxton Hicks harmful to the baby?
  • What can you do to relieve Braxton Hicks contractions?

What Are Braxton Hicks Contractions?

Braxton Hicks (BH) contractions are “practice contractions” that tone the uterus in preparation for real labor. They don’t cause any changes to the cervix however, so they won’t cause premature labor and are totally normal and safe.

In fact it’s actually a good thing if you’re having them, as it means your uterus is strong and practicing hard.

Some women never notice Braxton Hicks contractions, particularly in their first pregnancy, so don’t be worried if you don’t feel them.

Braxton Hicks occur randomly, but may also be caused by strenuous exercise, sex, orgasm, and dehydration.

What Week Do Braxton Hicks Start?

Braxton Hicks contractions can start as early as week six, but most moms don’t notice these practice contractions until much later in pregnancy, around week 20. Some moms—especially first time moms—never notice Braxton Hicks at all! (source)

What Do Braxton Hicks Feel Like?

Braxton Hicks contractions start out as mild tightening in the front of the uterus. They are felt higher in the stomach in contrast to something like menstrual cramps.

Some women notice a contorted belly shape during a Braxton Hicks contraction. Others have noticed a tightening, and some difficulty breathing during a BH contraction.

How Long Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Last?

These mild uterine contractions are irregular and last for about 30 seconds at a time. Most women won’t experience more than 1-2 per hour a few times each day. Later in pregnancy, the frequency may increase.

How Do You Know if You’re Having Braxton Hicks?

If you’re experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions, you may notice:

  • a tightening or hardening of the uterus
  • light, dull cramping higher in your abdomen
  • quick contractions, not longer than 30 seconds at a time, that don’t escalate
  • any pain decreases in intensity with rest, fluids, or time

What Causes Braxton Hicks Contractions?

In many cases, Braxton Hicks contractions are simply just another symptom of pregnancy, but there are some things that can increase the likelihood of experiencing Braxton Hicks:

  • Dehydration
  • Stress
  • Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) 
  • Strenuous Exercise

Can You Feel Braxton Hicks Contractions in Your Back?

There is usually no low or deep pelvic aching or pain like in true labor and with menstrual cramps. If there is low pain associated with Braxton Hicks, it is not likely to wrap around the body like true labor contractions do.

How Can I Tell Braxton Hicks From Real Contractions?

Braxton hicks contractions will slow down and disappear, especially with drinking water, changing position, and movement. True labor contractions won’t go away, will intensify in strength, and will become longer and closer together.

Longer, stronger, and closer together usually suggests actual labor contractions.

Braxton Hicks vs. Real Contractions
Occur in the upper bellyOccur lower and may wrap around the body
Don’t get longerGet longer
Don’t get strongerGet stronger
Don’t get closer togetherGet closer together
Subside with activityDo not subside with activity
Does not affect the cervixAffects the cervix


Are Braxton Hicks Contractions Harmful to the Baby?

As noted, Braxton Hicks contractions are your body’s natural way of practicing for the big day. Even women who experience frequent Braxton Hicks contractions do not need to worry—these contractions are not harmful to mama or baby.

If you’re uncomfortable, see below for some ideas to relieve some of the discomfort. And always call your doctor if you are concerned or experience what you think are real contractions. 

What to Do if You’re Having Braxton Hicks Contractions

Practice! Just as your body is practicing for labor, you can use this time to practice tuning into your body, breathing, relaxing, and following the contraction from start to finish.

What Can You Do to Relieve Braxton Hicks?

  • Walk – Sometimes gentle movement can stop Braxton Hicks contractions. If they don’t stop, they may be real labor contractions!
  • Drink water – Dehydration can cause Braxton Hicks, so getting plenty of fluids can ease the symptoms. Pregnant mamas should drink at least 96 ounces of water per day. Be especially vigilant about water consumption on particularly hot days. (source)
  • Rest – Strenuous exercise can cause Braxton Hicks as well. You don’t need to stop your regular activity, and exercise is still good for you, but you may want to choose less intense exercise like walking or swimming versus running.
  • Relax – Take a bath, or listen to calming music to reduce stress. Stress is not good for you or baby, so finding time to wind down is great for both of you and can help alleviate the discomfort of Braxton Hicks.
  • Magnesium – Many people are magnesium deficient, and during pregnancy your body needs much more than usual. Magnesium deficiency can cause muscle spasms, so keeping your magnesium level healthy may help reduce Braxton Hicks contractions discomfort. Magnesium oil is the easiest way to get supplemental magnesium.

My Experience With Braxton Hicks

In my first pregnancy, I never felt them (and honestly wonder if I ever had them!). My labor was long and hard, with my contractions not being very effective.

With my second pregnancy, I wasn’t sure if I would know what Braxton Hicks feel like. But, then I got them :). I felt them as early as 20 weeks. They had the classic “tightening” sensation and were quite high in my belly area (in the center, just under rib cage). They would last half hour or so and then go away.

I was nervous feeling them because it was a new sensation and I didn’t want to be in labor! However, they always passed and would reduce in intensity if I drank some water and sat down.

I also religiously drank 2 cups of red raspberry leaf tea with my second pregnancy so believe my uterus was “getting in shape” for the big day. This tea is known to “tone” the uterus, so maybe that’s why I felt my Braxton Hicks more. I went on to have a wonderful, “supernatural” and nearly painless birth!

How About You?

Did you have Braxton Hicks with your pregnancy? What did they feel like to you?