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What Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Feel Like

What Do Braxton Hicks Contractions Feel Like

For the first-time mom, knowing the difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and true labor contractions is absolutely crucial to avoid unnecessary hospital trips. Below I explain what Braxton Hicks are, what Braxton Hicks contractions feel like, and how to relieve them!


I was definitely one of those first-time moms who felt like every ache and pain was a sure-fire sign I was going to go into labor at any minute. This also meant going to the hospital – twice – and being sent home with the advice to rest and drink more water (what even is rest when you’re 40 weeks pregnant?!).


Luckily, the third time I went to the hospital (at a miserable 41 weeks pregnant) I was in active labor!


Not knowing what to expect when I did go into labor or how to tell the difference between Braxton Hicks and real contractions created a lot of unnecessary anxiety for me. To help you understand what’s going on with your pregnancy a little better, I’m going to share some helpful information about Braxton Hicks contractions that I wish I knew my first time around!


In this article:


What are Braxton Hicks contractions?

Braxton Hicks (BH) contractions are also known as “practice contractions”. In simple terms: they occur because your uterus is flexing (aka contracting). This actually helps prepare your uterus and cervix for real labor.


Think of it like this: when you’re getting ready to run a marathon, you practice by running, right? Well, labor is like a marathon that your uterus needs to practice for.


Is Braxton Hicks common?

Braxton Hicks are totally common and normal!

In fact, every pregnant woman experiences these contractions, although they may not realize it.

 labor contractions


What do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like?

Braxton Hicks usually start as an uncomfortable tight feeling at the top of your uterus/bump that spreads downwards. They often vary in intensity, and they can also feel like light, dull cramping at the higher part of your abdomen. If you put your hand on your bump while you’re having a Braxton Hicks contraction, you may notice how hard your belly is! That’s how hard your uterus is practicing!


I heard an analogy once that said Braxton Hicks feels like your belly is being squeezed into a vase, and it really does! Throughout both of my pregnancies, my Braxton Hicks contractions felt like my bump was being squeezed as tight as possible. Sometimes they were quick, and other times they were so intense they took my breath away.


Braxton Hicks should not be painful, but they will likely be uncomfortable. You may notice that as your due date approaches (and potentially passes) these contractions get more intense and happen a little more frequently. This is good! Your body is preparing for labor!


When do Braxton Hicks contractions start?

Doctors believe Braxton Hicks contractions start as early as 6 weeks pregnant, but they aren’t usually felt until around 20 weeks pregnant or so. Usually, the further along you are the more you’re able to notice them. Some first-time moms don’t notice them at all!


I started feeling Braxton Hicks with my first pregnancy around 30 weeks pregnant, but I was very active which likely had something to with my ability to feel them so well (more about that later). With my second pregnancy, I started feeling them at 20 weeks pregnant exactly!


It’s also common that these contractions become more noticeable sooner with each pregnancy. This was definitely what happened with me!


What causes Braxton Hicks contractions?

Although Braxton Hicks serve a purpose for your pregnancy, there could be a few other reasons why you’re having them.


Reasons you could be experiencing Braxton Hicks are:


  • Dehydration
  • Being active
  • Sex
  • A full bladder
  • A UTI (urinary tract infection)
  • Being stressed


In my experience, I found that on days where I was particularly active and didn’t drink enough water were the days that I’d notice an increase in contractions.


I was a waitress throughout my first pregnancy, so on days that we’d be busier than usual I’d find myself having them often. I also would go on really long walks (we’re talking 2-3 miles) during my first pregnancy, and towards the end of the walk I’d have Braxton Hicks contractions that took my breath away.

 prenatal massage

How to relieve Braxton Hicks contractions

Great news! There are a TON of ways you can relieve Braxton Hicks contractions!


Here are some ideas:


  • Drink more water
  • Take a nap
  • Take a shower or bath (this was my preferred method!)
  • Go for a walk
  • Breathe through them like it’s real labor (this gives you practice on how to breathe through real contractions!)
  • Read a book
  • Listen to music
  • Eat a banana
  • Take some magnesium
  • Get a massage (you won’t regret it, I promise!)


As I mentioned above, taking a shower was my favorite method because I relax the most in the shower. This was also how I was able to tell my real contractions from my Braxton Hicks contractions!


My mom gave me the advice to take a shower when I thought I was having contractions, because real ones won’t go away in the shower. When I went into actual labor, the first thing I did was get in the shower. While the water helped the pain, they didn’t go away, which is when I knew we needed to head to the hospital.

pregnant woman reading 

What is the difference between real contractions and Braxton Hicks contractions?

Now that you know all about Braxton Hicks contractions, let’s talk about how to tell the difference between true labor contractions and Braxton Hicks.


  • Braxton Hicks usually last between 30 and 60 seconds and don’t get closer together. True contractions last longer and increase in frequency.
  • Braxton Hicks are irregular. You can have a Braxton Hicks twice in one hour, then not again for a couple of hours. Real contractions come at intervals and don’t sputter out.
  • Braxton Hicks go away when you change positions or go for a walk. Real contractions become more intense with activity.
  • Braxton Hicks aren’t painful. Real contractions feel like hard period cramps, and they are usually lower than Braxton Hicks and may radiate into your back.


As always though, if you feel “off”, start having regular contractions, or start bleeding at any point in your pregnancy make sure to call your doctor.


American Pregnancy Association, Braxton Hicks Contractions, October 2019.

National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, Braxton Hicks Contractions May 2019.

MedlinePlus, Am I in labor?, April 2018.

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  • Emily Rader
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