Braxton Hicks contractions explained

Many excited moms are fooled by Braxton Hicks contractions. Here’s what you need to know. By Georgina Guedes


What are Braxton Hicks contractions?

Many moms confuse Braxton Hicks contractions with the real thing late in pregnancy. They can start at seven weeks, but few feel them so early. As pregnancy progresses, they become more obvious and uncomfortable. “Braxton Hicks is a contraction of the uterus. The smooth muscles of the uterus contracts by themselves before the true onset of labour,” says Dr Tom Mokaya, A Joburg based gynaecologist.
These contractions keep the uterus muscles toned for real birth; help circulate blood around the uterus and help ensure that the baby’s not lying sideways for delivery.
Braxton Hicks contractions just tighten the muscles, but normal labour contractions are a way to push the baby down towards the cervix,” he says.
Labour contractions last 10 to 15 seconds, come at regular 15-minute intervals and slowly become more frequent. Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular and infrequent.

How do I know if it’s real labour?

Dr Mokaya advises going to hospital when contractions are regular, come at 10- to 15-minute intervals and increase in frequency and strength. “Many moms think they must wait for their waters to break, but this isn’t the case. Some women’s waters only break during delivery, by which time it’s too late to get to a hospital.”
If you’re sure you’re in labour, he advises going to the hospital immediately, so healthcare providers can check the baby’s heartbeat to ensure that it’s not a long labour and if he’s in some distress. He also reassures moms that maternity nurses and gynaecologists see many cases of false labour and there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.


Go to hospital immediately if…

Dr Mokaya advises going to hospital immediately (at any stage of your pregnancy) if you have these symptoms or a combination of them:

  • Strong and painful contractions for longer than 10 to 15 seconds.
  • Reduced foetal movement and activity.
  • Any sort of bleeding or abnormal discharge.


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