Need to talk? Call 1800 882 436.
It's a free call with a maternal child health nurse. *call charges may apply from your mobile

Is it an emergency? Dial 000
If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately.

beginning of content

Braxton Hicks contractions

4-minute read

If you feel tightening or cramping in your abdomen during your pregnancy, you may be having Braxton Hicks contractions. This is normal and not a sign that you’re ready to give birth.

Braxton Hicks contractions are sometimes called ‘false’ or ‘practice’ contractions.

What are Braxton Hicks contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions are a tightening in your abdomen that comes and goes. They are contractions of your uterus in preparation for giving birth. They tone the muscles in your uterus and may also help prepare the cervix for birth.

Braxton Hicks contractions don’t cause labour and aren’t a sign that labour is beginning.

If you’re not sure whether what you’re experiencing is Braxton Hicks contractions or actual labour, contact your doctor or midwife. They will be able to tell by doing a vaginal examination — if there are no signs that your cervix is changing, it is not labour.

What do they feel like?

Braxton Hicks contractions feel like muscles tightening across your belly, and if you put your hands on your belly when the contractions happen, you can probably feel your uterus becoming hard.

The contractions come irregularly and usually last for about 30 seconds. While they can be uncomfortable, they usually aren’t painful.

If the pain or discomfort of your contractions eases off, they’re probably Braxton Hicks contractions.

When do you get them?

Braxton Hicks contractions occur from early in your pregnancy but you may not feel them until the second trimester. If this is your first pregnancy, you might start to feel them from about 16 weeks. In later pregnancies, you may feel Braxton Hicks contractions more often, or earlier. Some women won’t feel them at all.

In late pregnancy, you may experience Braxton Hicks contractions more often — perhaps as much as every 10 to 20 minutes. This is a sign that you are preparing for labour — known as prelabour.

How are Braxton Hicks contractions different from labour pain?

There are some differences between Braxton Hicks contractions and true labour contractions that will help your doctor or midwife decide whether you are in labour:

Braxton Hicks contractions:

  • don’t result in your cervix thinning and opening
  • usually last for about 30 seconds
  • can be uncomfortable, but usually aren’t painful
  • come and go at irregular times
  • usually occur no more than once or twice an hour (until late in the pregnancy), a few times a day
  • usually stop if you change position or activity or go for a walk
  • usually go if you have a warm bath or shower

Real labour contractions:

  • result in your cervix thinning and opening
  • last 30 to 70 seconds
  • become very regular
  • get closer together
  • last longer as time goes by
  • get stronger or come more often when you walk
  • get stronger over time

Should I call my doctor or midwife?

If you are less than 37 weeks pregnant, contractions can be a sign of premature labour. Contact your doctor or midwife immediately if:

  • you feel pain, pressure or discomfort in your pelvis, abdomen or lower back
  • the contractions become stronger, closer together and more regular
  • there is fluid leaking or gushing from your vagina

If you are full-term, you may choose to wait until a bit later in your labour, depending on what you have arranged with your doctor or midwife. If your waters break, or your contractions are strong and 5 minutes apart, it’s time to go to the hospital.

As any stage of pregnancy, you should contact your doctor or midwife immediately if you:

If you are in doubt, don’t hesitate to call your doctor or midwife for advice.

How can I ease the discomfort?

Braxton Hicks contractions are normal and don’t need treatment. But if you feel uncomfortable, you can try:

  • lying down
  • taking a walk
  • relaxing in a warm bath
  • having a massage

It may help to practise your breathing exercises during your Braxton Hicks contractions.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2020


Back To Top

Need more information?

Pregnancy at week 22

By week 22, some parts of your baby’s body are fully formed, while some women experience Braxton Hicks contractions about now.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Pregnancy at week 35

You'll probably be having lots of Braxton Hicks contractions by now. It's your body's way of preparing for the birth. They should stop if you move position.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Giving birth - contractions

Contractions are when the muscles in your uterus tighten and then relax. They occur throughout the later stages of your pregnancy.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

What happens to your body in childbirth

During childbirth, the body’s hormones and muscles, as well as the shape of the pelvis, all work together to bring the baby safely into the world.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Anatomy of pregnancy and birth - uterus

The uterus is your growing baby’s home during pregnancy. Learn how the uterus works, nurtures your baby and how it changes while you are pregnant.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

38 weeks pregnant | Raising Children Network

38 weeks pregnant? In this pregnancy week by week guide, find out how your baby is growing, how your body is changing and how to look after yourself.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

26 weeks pregnant | Raising Children Network

26 weeks pregnant? In this pregnancy week by week guide, find out how your baby is growing, how your body is changing and how to look after yourself.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Giving birth - early signs of labour

You can know the early signs of labour, even if you cannot predict when your labour will begin. Find out also what to do if something appears to be wrong.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Anatomy of pregnancy and birth

From conception to giving birth, a woman's body goes through many physical changes. Learn what happens to your body during pregnancy and labour.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Pregnancy and birth | Health

When you first find out you’re pregnant you’ll be faced with lots of decisions – everything from what to name your baby right through to which pram you’ll use.

Read more on ACT Health website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, this publication or any part of it may not be reproduced, altered, adapted, stored and/or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Healthdirect Australia.