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Ask the Expert: Frequent and Painful Braxton Hicks

braxton hicks

braxton hicks

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I’m wondering if painful and frequent Braxton Hicks are a sign of anything to worry about… i.e., bubs will come early, something wrong etc.

I’m 33 weeks pregnant and any amount of exercise brings them on.


Hi Tamika,

Two words jumped out at me immediately – frequent and painful. Braxton Hicks (also known as “practice contractions”) can be felt as early as 20 weeks or so, but more commonly in the third trimester. All women experience them, although not all women feel them or are aware of them.

Braxton Hicks contractions are simply the body’s way of toning and preparing the uterus for labour and typically become more noticeable and possibly more frequent the closer to your due date. While they may be a little uncomfortable at times, they should not be painful.

The main distinction between Braxton Hicks and real labour is essentially the frequency and intensity of them. Braxton Hicks contractions will eventually fade away, especially if you change your activity, lie down, or eat or drink something. If it’s real labour, nothing you do will make them go away!

You mentioned that exercise brings them on. What kind of exercise are you doing? Perhaps you should slow down the pace of things now as you enter the final weeks of your pregnancy. It could be your body’s way of saying, “hey mama, slow down!”

At 33 weeks, you are still a number of weeks away from being full term, and so you should be aware of something called preterm labour. Even though only about 12% of women have preterm labour, it is important to be aware of the signs and know what to do if you think you might be experiencing preterm labour.

  • Preterm labour means going into labour before 37 weeks
  • You experience contractions (your abdomen tightens like a fist) every 10 minutes or more often
  • You notice a change in vaginal discharge (leaking fluid or bleeding from your vagina)
  • You experience pelvic pressure—the feeling that your baby is pushing down
  • You have low, dull backache
  • You have cramps that feel like your period
  • You experience abdominal cramps with or without diarrhea

So what do you do if you think you are experiencing preterm labour?

Call your health care provider (nurse, doctor or midwife) or go to the hospital right away if you think you’re having preterm labour, or if you have any of the warning signs. Call even
if you have only one sign.

Don’t feel embarrassed about calling your doctor or midwife to check things out as it is always better to get properly assessed by a medical professional if you have any worries or concerns at all.


Tanya Strusberg is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator (LCCE) and teaches prenatal education to pregnant women and their partners in Melbourne.

She and her husband Doron have two beautiful children, Liev and Amalia.

To learn more visit




Jolene enjoys writing, sharing and connecting with other like-minded women online – it also gives her the perfect excuse to ignore Mount-Washmore until it threatens to bury her family in an avalanche of Skylander T-shirts and Frozen Pyjama pants. (No one ever knows where the matching top is!) Likes: Reading, cooking, sketching, dancing (preferably with a Sav Blanc in one hand), social media, and sitting down on a toilet seat that one of her children hasn’t dripped, splashed or sprayed on. Dislikes: Writing pretentious crap about herself in online bio’s and refereeing arguments amongst her offspring.

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